Failure is an inevitable fact of life. While it’s never a pleasant event when you fail at something, it’s not something that you can avoid. Even if you try your hardest not to fail, you’ll end up failing at that, too, eventually! Trying to avoid failure at any cost can even make you more likely to fail in your endeavors, so it’s best to accept that that’s just the way it is.
It’s important to understand, though, why failing is okay. It’s something that every human on this planet does, and that’s just one of the reasons why it’s okay to do. Failure is part of the human condition.
In this article, we plan to explain to you some of the reasons why failure is okay, as well as the things failure can teach you.
It’s Okay to Fail: Everyone Fails
Failure is an unavoidable condition. No matter how much people try to embody perfection, no matter how much they try to hide it, they’ve all failed at some point – or they will. There’s never been a person in the history of our planet that got everything right one hundred percent of the time. That’s just not how it works.
LifeHack lists some examples of famous people who got it wrong several times before they got it right. You might be surprised by some of the names on the list!
- Sir James Dyson: had over 5,000 failed prototypes of his famous Dyson vacuum before creating a successful one
- Steven Spielberg: was rejected by University of South Carolina’s School of Cinematic Arts twice
- Thomas Edison: was told that he was “too stupid to learn anything” by his schoolteachers
- Walt Disney: was told he “lacked imagination” and “had no good ideas” by a newspaper editor
- Oprah Winfrey: was fired from her first job as a TV anchor
- Stephen King: had his first book rejected 30 times before it was finally published
There are more examples in the article, but these are the standouts. The limitations of failure only apply when you give up. It’s been proven time and time again that if you keep at it – like James Dyson and Stephen King did – you will eventually find success!
That’s why, Dr. Zimmerman says, “It’s okay to fail, but it’s not okay to give up.” Everyone on Earth fails. If you take comfort in the fact that your peers fail as well – even if it doesn’t always seem like it – then great! If not, though, just keep in mind that people may not judge you as harshly when you fail as you think they do. More often than not, they probably understand your situation.
Understanding yourself inside and out is a key both to reaching success and accepting failure. Someone who has a better understanding of their unique skills, challenges, and traits will know better how to set themselves up for success – they will be more prepared to take on roles and duties that suit them, where someone who doesn’t know themselves as well might take on more or less than they’re ready for.
This understanding of yourself plays into how you react to failure, too. Knowing that something doesn’t line up well with your strong suits isn’t an excuse not to try, but you needn’t be as hard on yourself in the end if things don’t go well. However, in the same way, if you fail at something that you’re typically quite good at, you should be harder on yourself, too.
The best way to reach this more profound understanding of yourself, ironically enough, is through failure itself. When you fail at something and take time to reflect on it, the experience may reveal things about yourself that you may not have known before. These things might have to do with your habits, your skills, your mannerisms, and even hidden things that might be helping or hindering you.
Failure makes you dig deep. In cases when you let someone down, especially, you end up wanting to repay the person or do better next time. Through this sense of repayment, we’re brought low, opened to new sources of understanding, and then given a fresh shot at it with a better perspective.
It’s important to think back on what led you to each failing situation in order to get the most understanding out of it. What was it that made you fail? Was it within your control, or totally out of your hands? Is it something you can avoid next time? Is it something you can grow through and move past? Ask yourself all of these questions and more when you fail. If you do, you’ll always learn something from your mistakes.
Every time you fail, things get a little bit easier. This isn’t meant to justify failure, of course, or make you ever expect to fail. But you should be ready for it if it comes your way (which it will).
The human condition is defined by the eternal struggle to attain what we want. There will always be something more that we’re trying to reach, whether it be a minimal goal or your life’s work. You will more than likely fail at least one of those things before you achieve success.
The road to success is full of failure. J. K. Rowling, the famous author of the Harry Potter series, struggled on welfare for years while she wrote her first book, only to have it rejected twelve times before it finally became a global phenomenon. She’s credited with the quote, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
No matter how many times you fail initially, you will eventually fight your way to your goals. People both close to us and far from us have shown us that throughout the years. Every time you fail along the way, you gain a little more strength to help you reach success next time. Every time you fail, you receive a little extra understanding to plan better for the next run. The uphill climb gets easier every time you fall.
Success is easy. Failure is not. To be a person that reaches their greatest success, you have to stand back up every time you fail, and this is okay. It never gets easier to stand up, but every time you fail, you find another tool in your belt that will help you sometime down the road. If you’re building a chair, for example, but you cut a piece of wood too short, just pull out another piece of wood – and measure twice this time.
There’s a reason why people tend to dislike those that have had it easy all their lives. Whether it’s because we’re jealous of them or because they never learned the harsh lessons that we did remains to be seen. However, it can’t be denied that going through hardship breeds a resilience that can’t be artificially created.
Failing helps us develop a thick skin, and it helps us learn to have faith in ourselves and others. It also helps us learn about ourselves, inside and out, in addition to what makes us (and others) tick. But there’s more than just experience to be gained there.
Those who have had everything handed to them like to give up when things don’t go their way. Those who have worked their way up via failure, however, know that to achieve what you want to achieve, you may need to fall off the horse several times. This is one of the many valuable life lessons that you learn through failure.
This article lists ten different life lessons that failure will teach you. They are as follows:
- Being right isn’t always the most important thing
- Sometimes, failing repeatedly means you need to change your direction
- Failure contains a universal humility
- Failure never stops the determined
- Failure always precedes success
- Failure will teach you flexibility
- There is no single solution to any problem
- You never know what you can do until you try
- People aren’t judging you as much as you think
- Every time you fail, you get a clean slate
There are hundreds of other life lessons that failure teaches, and these can vary greatly depending on the person. These life lessons can be entirely unique to you and your situation. A carpenter, for example, will learn very different life lessons from failure than a businessman will. They will also move forward in different ways, but both ways will be correct.
One of the unique lessons that failure can teach you is the ability to think outside the box. When you and the people around you are stumped on the solution to a problem, creative thinking can frequently be the solution. For some people, this ability to think in strange ways comes naturally. For the rest of us, however, we have to learn it in some way or another.
Struggling through failure is a great, if harsh, way to learn this. It may not be the only way, either. For all we know, you may be able to garner the same knowledge about creatively solving problems by reading a lot of books. However, when you fail – and you will – you will learn some of this, as well.
The solution to a problem isn’t always the most creative one – sometimes, it’s the most obvious one. However, more often than not, if the solution is obvious, someone will have figured it out already.
Recently, scientists were able to photograph a black hole for the first time. They had to do this by being creative – namely, by building an enormous telescope. However, this telescope would need to be the size of the Earth in order to capture a black hole. We don’t exactly have one of those lying around.
As a result, the scientists had to think of another method to get it done. Instead of building one giant telescope, they used several smaller telescopes around the world working synchronously to produce a similar result. This network of telescopes was called the EHT – the Event Horizon Telescope.
After collecting the data that they needed, they combined all of it into one image. However, this image was so large that they stored it in pieces on several hard drives until it could be aggregated in a facility that could handle the file size.
Because of the creativity of the scientists involved, we were able to do something for the first time. We have our first image of a black hole because some intelligent scientists decided that they could split one giant telescope into many small ones instead. If something of this magnitude can be done with a little creativity, anything is possible.
This may be an obvious one, but going through the process of failure teaches you compassion for others in the same situation. This is especially true in those moments where the failures pile up and people feel unusually low. You may or may not have had someone help you through these times yourself, but regardless, we hope that your empathy will allow you to help others in turn.
If you have an ego, the chances are that a few good failures might knock you down a peg or two. This is never a bad thing – creating and maintain the delicate balance between confidence and humility is an ongoing process for many people.
Empathy is one of the defining traits of humanity. No other creature on Earth experiences empathy the way we do. It’s one of the many ties that bind us together as a race, and it’s the main reason why we can fall down, hit rock bottom through failure, then rise back up again through our successes.
Here are three different definitions of empathy, from the website VerywellMind:
- “…an affective response more appropriate to someone else’s situation that to one’s own.” Martin Hoffman, 1987
- …an attempt by one self-aware self to comprehend unjudgementally the positive and negative experiences of another self.” Lauren Wispe, 1986
- “…an observer’s reacting emotionally because he perceives that another person is experiencing or is about to experience an emotion.” Ezra Stotland, 1969
This ability to relate to each other (often because we’ve experienced the same) creates bonds between people who have never met. It turns acquaintances into friends and friends into lifelong partners. It’s an active attempt to understand the other person, often on a much deeper level than one might normally be able to achieve.
Empathy is equally important because of the awful things we’re capable of as humans. It can be saddening when we feel compassion for someone who has been poorly treated by another person – especially if we felt that way at one point, as well. And always, this empathy requires us having been there in order to truly understand others.
Empathy creates a bridge between people who might otherwise never associate, because all people fail at some point.
Take More Risks
Another benefit of failure is the way it can sometimes inure you to taking risks. Of course, this can be a dangerous, slippery slope – try not to go too far in the risk-taking direction – but, if you’re less afraid to fail, you’ll be more likely to accept the risky opportunities that come your way.
Someone who’s afraid of failure might be hesitant to accept an opportunity that they think might be out of their wheelhouse. However, someone who’s been hardened to failure a bit will be more open to some of these riskier avenues. This opens up numerous opportunities for self-improvement that the person who’s afraid of failure might not see.
Imagine that, one day, your boss ends up in a jam because some specialized work didn’t end up getting done. For the sake of this scenario, let’s say it has to do with something simple, like creating a new logo for the brand. Even though you haven’t flexed your artsy muscles since college, you feel like you might be able to make something work.
So, you stay up through the night and come up with a new logo proposition for the brand in question. Whether you ended up pulling through with the logo or not, you came out of it with more art experience than you had going in, and you at least gave it a shot. The worst your boss could do would be to reject it, but, in the event that your boss likes it, you could be in for a lot of gratitude, and who knows how much more? Maybe a raise or a promotion?
This is an opportunity that someone who’s hardened to failure would jump to take advantage of. Someone who’s not used to defeat or is afraid of it might worry about doing work that the boss doesn’t like, or about wasting their night doing something that might not matter. What they don’t realize is that the night wasn’t a waste at all – not for the failure or the success, because both of them learned or gained something.
Of course, one of the biggest reasons to keep moving forward when you fail is because there will be success down the line somewhere. Just as it’s inevitable that you will sometimes fail, it’s also inevitable that, as long as you don’t give up, you will eventually find success! Arguably, this success tastes even sweeter after you’ve failed many times, especially for large-scale goals.
The more effort you put into something, the better it will feel when it pulls off. This is an undeniable fact – it makes that hard-earned success feel so good. While the failures might be some of the lowest points in your memory, those successes will be some of the highlights of your life. They will be your pride and joy, and you’ll know all the better how much hardship you can handle because of them.
These hard-won successes aren’t just good in their purest form. When you work hard and struggle long for something and it finally pays off, you get a new weapon in your arsenal: the confidence that you can handle whatever comes your way. You continue on with the knowledge that, no matter what tries to waylay you in your quest, you’ll eventually overcome it.
Even if you end up being a Dyson or an Edison – failing thousands of times before finally reaching your idea of success – take heart, and know that you will eventually get there.
It’s undeniable that the going can get tough on the way there, though. Sometimes, you might need a little extra help to get over that hump. We’ve included some tips below to help you get through the hardest times.
- Find a friend or family member who empathizes. The saying “misery loves company” comes to mind here, although it’s not quite the same. Enlist the support of someone who’s been there, who can help you through it and reassure you that it will be okay.
- Treat yourself when the going gets tough. When you’re working extra hard at something, there’s no reason that you can’t reward yourself for it! Strategically rewarding yourself, such as with a massage or surprise vacation, can help reduce your stress and help renew your energy for the battles ahead.
- Meditation can take on different forms for different people. For some, jogging or exercising at the gym can be a stress-purging, mind-clearing experience. For others, traditional meditation is better. Some people enjoy yoga to decompress, and some people like laps up and down a pool. Find your happy place and clear your mind there.
- Blow off some steam. Exercising works for this too, but other things like dancing, drawing, or venting to a close friend also help with this. Get what’s bothering you off your chest so that you can start again with a clear head the next day.
It’s Inevitable to Fail
Just as your success is inevitable (eventually), your failure is also unavoidable. This alone should be one reason to fear it less. It’s okay to fail because it’s going to happen – it’s as simple as that. If someone in your life, such as a parent or other authority figure, expected you to go your whole life without failing, well, they were wrong. Never failing is impossible.
For people who have a deep-seated fear of failure, this inevitability can be comforting. Take it to heart that you, your neighbor, and the most successful people on Earth will all, inevitably, fail at something, whether that be something as simple as planting a successful garden, passing an important exam, or directing a business merger.
When this happens, don’t be too hard on yourself, but don’t be too easy, either. How much punishment is required depends very much on the situation. If you didn’t complete your work on time because you were too distracted by your favorite show, for example, the punishment of missing the next few episodes of it or doing extra work might be fitting.
However, if you weren’t able to complete your work on time because of a friend falling ill, for example, you should not treat yourself too harshly. Perhaps you might want to work on getting your work done earlier next time, in case of an emergency. However, the circumstance was primarily out of your control. Prepare for the possibility next time, but also understand that it was partly out of your hands.
This is mostly where the line tends to fall: if the failure was within your power to prevent or fix, bucking up, taking the blame, and setting a fair punishment is usually in order. However, if the circumstances of the failure were out of your control, don’t take it too harshly! No one can control the future, nor can anyone predict it. Do your best to prepare for it, then go from there.
Failing Doesn’t Mean You’re a Failure
Last of all – always keep in mind that just because you fail doesn’t mean you’re a “failure.” The word itself is not a good term. Just because you failed an expectation, a goal or a timeline doesn’t mean that the failure should follow you forever. This is exactly what branding someone with “failure” is meant to accomplish. We recommend avoiding the word and its connotations whenever possible.
You are not a failure, nor will you ever be one, as long as you’re still striving to hit that success. The only failures that exist in this world are the ones who have completely given up on their dreams and goals. As long as they’re still in your sights, you’re not a failure!
Keep this at the forefront of your mind when the going gets tough. In fact, keep everything we’ve mentioned in this article in your mind, both when things get tough and when things are easy. A successful person knows how to stay humble when success comes their way, but also knows how to make the most of their confidence in tough times.
Saying “don’t be afraid of failure” probably isn’t enough for most people. However, we hope that, in this article, we’ve shown you the reasons why you needn’t be afraid. Even though it’s always a tough thing to go through, failure has benefits in it for you, too. Try your best to embrace it when it’s your turn, and make the most of it. Treat it as a stepping stone on the way to success, because that’s exactly what it is.