Does Failure Suck?

No one likes failure but when we flip our view of failure, then it's not so bad. In fact, it's necessary for our success!

Shelley Audette Settles

7/7/20233 min read

We commonly hear that anything worth doing is worth doing well. But we tend to forget that we don’t usually do things ‘well’ when we first start out. A baby doesn’t pop out of the womb with all the coordination needed to feed herself. When she’s learning to use a spoon, it’s a wonder that any food gets in her mouth at all! It’s all over her face and hands, in her hair, on her clothes and the floor. She’s laughing, eating and learning at the same time.

Walking wasn’t any different. She wobbles and falls. Perhaps a parent picks her up and dries her tears, or perhaps she crawls over to something to pull herself up again. 'Quit’ isn’t yet in her vocabulary and she eventually masters walking then running, skipping and jumping.

Everything is a new experience when you are young. Somewhere along the way, a person hears criticism from a caregiver or ridicule from another child, and decides that stepping out to try something ‘new’ isn’t worth potential embarrassment.

If we string enough of these episodes together, our self-image becomes fragile and we don’t feel it can take the ‘hit’ so we back off new things.

We become afraid, not necessarily of failure itself, but of what we associate failure with: ridicule, risk, rejection.

“If you don’t try at anything, you can’t fail… it takes back bone to lead the life you want” - Richard Yates

You can’t fail if you don’t try… or can you? I would argue that not trying is a huge failure. I know; I was there for years.

The fear of failure kept me from writing my books. I thought that if I didn’t write, then I could still imagine myself a writer. That was an illusion because writers (by definition) WRITE! I was afraid that if I wrote something bad… then “I” would be a failure.

That’s so not true! With some coaching to learn how to ‘rewrite’ how I viewed things, I realized I could never be a failure if I kept trying. Failure is just feedback. Sure, a particular project might miss its mark, but it can edited for improvement. This is how we learn and develop anything we attempt.

I know a man who has played some high-level sports, but he refuses to golf because he knows he won’t be good at it until he puts in the time to do it well. So instead of having fun knocking the ball around with a few friends, he won’t go. Something in him requires him to do well right off the bat.

But what if it were something else? What if what you want to do would open up new business opportunities or new connections that would grow your influence and your options?

What are you not doing because you are afraid to let yourself be mediocre at it?

I remember when I was asked if I could play chess with the man who I visit in hospice. “No” was my obvious answer because I wasn’t any good at chess 50 years ago when I last messed around with the game. Knowing how the pieces moved doesn’t make me chess player.

Yet, the guy I visit ‘lives’ for chess. The first couple times I saw him, he wanted to play but I found reasons not too. He loves chess and has played for more than 40 years. I knew I’d provide no challenge or entertainment to him whatsoever.

I was wrong. When I decided to get over myself and play with him, I discovered I enjoy it as much as he does. I held on longer than I expected in our first two games and after that, the tables quickly turned. Now, I win more times than not against a man who has forgotten more about chess that I will ever know! He laughs when I beat him and says that he taught me too well.

What’s my point? If I had not been willing to be embarrassed at my lack of skill, we both would have missed out on something truly enjoyable.

If you are facing something that you aren't doing well, that’s more than fine. Give yourself room and time to develop and never quit on yourself. You are in a growth zone where you have a free pass to look stupid, be ignorant or seem sloppy.

John C Maxwell has a great book out called Failing Forward.The major difference between achieving people and average people is their perception of and response to failure… The secret of moving beyond failure is to use it as a lesson and a stepping-stone.” In other words, failure the single most important step in learning to succeed!

“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end.

Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” - Denis Waitley

Who wants to be nothing?