Everyone should fail: what we can all learn from failure
In today’s fast-moving world, where traditional job roles and careers are being replaced by new, technological skills, where the internet acts a wall of fame for everyone’s attainments and success is seemingly measured by how you’re seen on social media rather than the value of the achievement, it is very easy to become anxious to be ‘somebody’, to crave recognition rather than actual results and to dreadfully fear failure.
In an article by the BBC talking about social media and the struggle celebrities face with these platforms, Dr Rahda says…
“It’s really easy to see other people’s lives through the literal filter of social media and to think everyone else is ‘perfect’, looks ‘perfect’ and has a ‘perfect’ life. Social media profiles filter out the ‘imperfections’ of photos and sometimes the challenges that we all face in life. In other words, social media promotes perfection and success. There is no space for failure. Everyone seemingly paints such perfect lives that making a ‘mistake’ is alien to us.
Fearing failure is a somewhat natural tendency. Anyone with a goal or vision in some capacity wants to do well for themselves, to achieve something and to be proud of said achievements. What we fail to realise though (no pun intended) is that failure is not the be-all and end-all. Nine times out of ten, failure is not final and rather than becoming demotivated and giving up, we should see failures as a springboard to lead us onto something else.
The oxford dictionary defines failure as
Being unsuccessful in achieving one’s goal.
As negative as this may sound there is nowhere in this definition that states being unsuccessful in achieving one’s goal today means being unsuccessful in achieving the same goal or even a different goal tomorrow or the day after and so on. It’s all about perspective and how you choose to view it.
A common example is the feeling after going to an interview or even just applying online for a job then finding out that you didn’t get it. At that moment, it’s a failure but not getting one job doesn’t mean that you stop applying. If anything, it should be fuel to go harder, apply for others, reach out to your network, create something, do something new!
I remember finishing college and deciding that I wanted to go onto work rather than going to university. Coming out of the world of university and trying to navigate the world of work was a daunting process at first, thinking about my lack of experience, the broadness of the working world, what skills I actually had, where I’d best fit in and even in what industry.
Thinking back now, if I got the first job that I applied for in that period of time then I would’ve been inputting data all day in Excel sheets for a company whose purpose I didn’t 1) understand or 2) really care about (no offence to anyone who works with Excel but you understand the point I’m trying to make).
In retrospect, I now understand why this happened. The process of interviewing and learning about different roles was super useful. The professionalism I gained through those various interviews, my learnings about the creative industry through research and even the confidence I gained in that period. What I actually went on to do, many interviews later, was work in a brand strategy company, speaking to consumers and coming up with really cool ideas for brands alongside some really amazing people. I thank God that I didn’t get that first job and I am more than grateful that I went through that whole process.
I like to see success as a painting. When you begin a painting it’s never the masterpiece you have in mind straight away. The first few strokes may look odd, they may not look artistic, but it’s all a part of the process. In the process of the painting, you may even get things wrong but at the end of the day it’s YOUR picture, so you have the power to create the picture you want even if it means editing brush strokes, adding, taking away, to create what you want to create. There comes a time where you step back and look at the bigger picture and get to see what you’ve created. And those ‘failures’ along the way only made for a better picture. And guess what… when you finish, you’re free to paint another picture.
These simple phrases are reminders that failure is not final and I believe if you say them from time to time, as I do, it will help you not to lose perspective:
- Today I failed at X but tomorrow I will try X
- This week I didn’t succeed in doing X and I believe it was because of X so next time I will try X
- I’ve recently been quite bad at X but I know I can change the situation so I will work in a different way to make sure I achieve X
Failure is relative
One thing we also should realise is that failure is relative. My idea of failure and your idea of failure may be very different. In January, I left my job at the time in search of something new and more meaningful, started my journey on the Making LEMONADE programme and had a lot less stability financially than I had had for the past two years. To my family and close friends – though they’d never say directly, but their questions and doubtful looks said it for them – me not being in work may have felt like me failing.
In March, I found a youth mentor role that really felt in line with my values and the space I wanted to move into. Then, unfortunately, I didn’t start due to COVID-19 and it most definitely felt like a failure. But what I had to realise was that these ‘failures’ were not the be-all and end-all. Not being a part of this opportunity, gave me the time and headspace to venture into new areas and think about the skills I had – I started creating and editing poetry videos, I started writing a lot more and not to mention I got the amazing opportunity to be involved with the Enabling Environments work at Sour Lemons, making a huge impact in something that really matters to me. So what looked like and very much seemed like failure was actually just space for me to grow and venture into something else. So saying that, EVERYONE should allow space for themselves to ‘fail’.
Something else I have learnt through Sour Lemons is resilience. Being resilient means not accepting something that you’re not happy with, it means not complying to things that don’t sit right with you and it means choosing not to be affected by failures or seemingly negative things that happen in your life. I walk with my head up knowing that I can achieve anything I put my mind to and even if I do ‘fail’ in the moment, there will always be another avenue I can try, and if there’s not one… I’ll create one!