7 Reasons Why You Should Embrace Failure
Lessons from a recovering perfectionist
By Osato Evbuomwan
At some point in life, we all fail at something. It could be in the really big things like getting fired from a job or ending a relationship. Or we could fail at everyday things like missing a deadline or ruining a recipe. In each instance, the fact that we fail is not in itself a bad thing. It’s what we do after we fail that really matters. Do we throw in the towel? Decide that we are never going to try again? Wallow in self-pity and try to find where to place the blame? As unpleasant and uncomfortable as failure may feel, I’ve found that it can also be a strong tool for self-discovery and growth.
I developed a very strong fear of failure early in my childhood, a result of the high standards my parents set and pushed my siblings and me to achieve. My father would say, “You have to pass and pass well”, making it clear that he wanted not just good grades, but the best grades. So, failure was never an option. It certainly felt good to always do well, but more importantly, my academic success provided me with the approval and validation I so desperately sought from my dad. However, this did nothing to prepare me for failure of any kind. Whenever I failed at something or did not do as well as my father expected, I was overrun by feelings of worthlessness and incompetence, often obsessing over what mistakes I had made, and berating myself quite harshly as if trying to punish myself for failing.
It was not until much later in my adult life that I began to view failure in a more positive light. It took me failing woefully at my job to finally learn to accept failure as an inevitable part of life. Here are some of the lessons I picked up along the way.
1. There is so much more to you than what you do.
Whether it’s work or academics or the arts, your worth is not defined by the things you do. You are a worthy human just by being. You don’t have to earn worthiness, and you certainly do not lose worthiness by failing at anything. When you fail at something, that is all that it is. It is not an indication of whether you are good enough. Because you are, regardless. So, separate yourself and your identity from your work, and do not judge yourself as a person by the quality of your output. Judge only the output itself, and then, trusting in your ability to learn, focus on doing better.
2. Failure is not the end, but rather a step in the process of becoming better.
Thomas Edison, the famous inventor, had many inspiring views on failure, but the one I find particularly relevant is this: “I haven’t failed. I have just found ten thousand ways that won’t work”. When we fail at something, we learn one way not to do it. And if we pay close attention, with an open and non-judgmental mind, we can use that failure as a stepping stone towards self improvement and growth, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel.
3. ‘Failure’ is not a bad word.
It is simply the opposite of success — just another English word describing a particular state of things. So there really is no reason to be afraid of it.
4. Failure builds resilience.
If you work through failure, and let it fuel your determination to get something right, you strengthen your muscles of perseverance and build resilience for future challenges. Think of it as resistance training — over time, and with consistency, your mind overcomes the force of resistance it is met with and is then primed for the next, more intense one.
5. Failure is a great reminder of our fallibility as humans.
Nobody is perfect. We are all likely to make errors or fail at one point or the other. Sometimes, constant success creates a sense of invincibility and in some cases, arrogance. This makes us prone to having an overinflated sense of self, can affect our work and other relationships, and may even make us careless in how we approach activities. When we fail, we are reminded to pause, reflect and consider how we might do things better or differently.
6. Failure can also be a good way to know your friends.
It’s easy for people to flock around you when you are successful. But pay attention to what happens when you fail. Those who truly value you do not suddenly stop when things are not going so well. Instead, they offer their support and encouragement, and where it is within their control, they give you another chance to try again.
7. When you have worked through failure, you can help others do the same.
Your experiences are not just valuable to you, but to the next person who can learn from your story. So do not be ashamed of your failure. Embrace it, learn from it and share your lessons with others. You will certainly be making a positive impact in someone’s life.
The Flip Side: Be careful not to get comfortable with failure. Rather, acknowledge and accept the discomfort that comes with it, because that is the incentive to do better, to find ways to avoid failure in the future, and to learn. If you fail without experiencing discomfort, you are not failing right…
Osato Evbuomwan is a member of The Room and a Senior Marketing Manager at Unilever who is passionate about serving the African consumer. Creator of “The Talking Circle”, she is on a quest to cultivate a brave and safe space for conversations that challenge taboos and change mindsets.