Explore how embracing failure as a catalyst for growth unveils the path to success, shedding light on the overlooked joy in imperfection and the invaluable lessons learned along the way.
Fear of failure is one of the biggest killers of success. If you are someone who struggles with the fear of failing, taking the necessary steps toward your big goal or dream can feel nearly impossible. The fear can be paralyzing and affect our lives on all levels. Aside from keeping us from our career goals, the fear of failure can also keep us from living our lives. A fulfilled and happy life includes adventure, taking risks, and trying new things, all of which are difficult to accomplish if you are scared to fail.
In fact, failure is how everyone learns. The great innovators and inventors of history failed more than anyone. The best athletes lose a lot of competitions, especially in the early years. As Ellen DeGeneres noted, “When you take risks, you learn that there will be times when you succeed, and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important.”
When is the last time you picked up a new hobby? Perhaps you have the desire to learn how to play the piano, but you have been putting it off for years because you are afraid you will be terrible. The reality is, you will be terrible at it at first. Very few people have the innate talent to ever play the piano like Beethoven or Diana Krall. The most things, the initial learning stage is clunky and awkward and hard to get through. This tests your patience and determination – and this is when most people give up.
We need to find the fun in failing again. As children, we would jump from one hobby or sport to the next without a second thought. If something caught our attention, we did not care about the potential for failure, we just wanted to try it because it seemed like fun. Today, our virtual culture has us believing that perfection should be our only goal, and if perfection cannot be attained from the get-go it is best to give up before we embarrass ourselves.
If you find yourself paralyzed by perfectionism and the fear of failure, find something new to try that has low stakes for you. Try out a new hobby that you have been thinking about for some time or do just one small thing that will help get you one step closer to that big dream. Allow yourself to try, and possibly fail.
Pay attention to how failure feels and how little your life was affected by that failure. The only way past the fear of failure is quite simple: just fail. The more you fail the less scary it becomes, which in turn makes it easier to keep taking those risks that you would previously shy away from.
I will give you an example from my life because I think there is much to learn from my failures in this situation. My husband and I bought our first home a little over a year ago, and as we prepared the flower beds and yard for winter, I discovered a large garden at the back of our property that had been left to grow over. I have lofty dreams about having a large garden where we can grow our own food and herbs. However, I have the extreme opposite of a green thumb (I once managed to kill a succulent) and I worried about taking on such a large garden my first time out.
Despite my hesitation, I spent the winter researching gardening tips and bombarding my mother-in-law, an avid gardener, with endless questions. In the early spring, I planted some seeds in planters and crossed my fingers for some seedlings. To my pleasant surprise, almost everything I planted sprouted, and in my elation, I promptly over-watered everything and it all died.
If I had believed that one failure dictated my worth as a gardener, I would have given up on my garden right then and there. Instead, I let myself feel the frustration, regrouped, and then planted a second round of seeds. This time, the seedlings survived long enough to get planted in the garden, which I naively thought meant I was in the safe zone.
A lot happened next! My eggplant seedlings died, my zucchini plants exploded and suffocated the sugar snap peas, the pepper seedlings never grew large enough to bloom, my cherry tomato plant was less than a foot tall, and I realized that I had planted the wrong green beans, and ended up with pounds of green beans I did not necessarily want.
If I had allowed myself to focus on just those multiple little failures, I am certain this past summer would be the first and last time I would ever attempt a garden. However, I was so excited by the successes that the failures just fueled my determination to do better next year. In the fall, I harvested nearly 200 carrots, made a batch of dill pickle green beans (that turned out delicious), froze or gave away over 20 large zucchinis, and stocked my cold storage with enough spaghetti squash for the entire winter.
Even the most accomplished gardeners will have years when nothing goes right. The most successful CEOs stumble and fail. Authors have manuscripts rejected. Actors are told they are not right for the part. Those we view as “perfect” faced countless failures along the way. Still, they were unwilling to give up and chose to learn from each failure. Success is bred from failure, and failure is inevitable. So, allow yourself the space to be imperfect. Keep going. Fail forward. That’s what successful people do.