Why Failure is Not an Option

The ROOM
5 min readMar 19, 2021

As one who knows what it feels like to fail time and time again, The Room’s Disrupter, Daniella Sachs, believes she has earned the right to tell us emphatically that failure is not an option! In this piece, she shares her battles with failure and the truths she has come to understand after so many years of learning and relearning the hard lessons that it teaches us.

I remember the day I first really failed at something. I remember it so vividly I can still feel the gaping hole in the pit of my stomach bubbling up to consume me in its shame storm. I mean, I knew I had been treading a fine line. I just somehow thought that if I pushed the box far enough, I would come out the other side. Except I didn’t. I pushed the box so hard I plummeted right off the edge, shattering on the sharp rocks below. And all I could hear ringing in my straight-A-student ears as I plummeted was that lecturer’s comment: “Daniella, you think you’re so clever but actually, you’re just an idiot.”

What had I failed at so dramatically, you ask? I had written my architecture thesis on the Reimagining of Africa, to the abject horror of my department. And I was now faced with the reality that a whole year of my life, never mind a whole armory of self-pride, dignity and self-worth, was gone… poof, up in smoke.

Why am I telling you this? Because I know the taste of failure. I know the pain of having your self-confidence ripped to shreds. And I know the very real struggle of trying to find all the pieces to stitch yourself up again.

In fact, I know how it feels to fail over and over and over again. So, I believe I have earned the right to tell you that failure is not an option.

Don’t look so shocked and don’t jump down my throat just yet. Let me explain through the lessons I learnt:

LESSON 1: I failed because I got so absorbed in the problem I was trying to solve, that I lost touch with the market I was supposed to be solving it for.

I did not fail my architecture thesis because of the big red ‘fail’ stamp on my report card. As I let slip already, all the signs were there. I knew what I was doing was risky, and I went ahead anyway. But this is not what set me up for failure. What set me up for failure was that I excavated such a deep hole in trying to understand the problem that I completely lost touch with the reality of what my market actually wanted — which was just a pretty building that twinkled in the light, and not the reimagining of an entire continent.

It has taken me years to learn that receiving bad feedback is not failing.

LESSON 2: Failure is when we ignore feedback instead of embracing it as a learning opportunity for iterating to better solve the problem we are working on.

I will admit that losing touch with my market was not the only reason I failed; I failed because I did not listen to the feedback I received. Yes, being called “stupid” is not a helpful comment by any means. But because I let my ego and hurt feelings about one rather spiteful comment get in the way, I stopped being able to listen to the feedback from the greater market, which was trying so hard to tell me how to iterate on my ideas. In retrospect, if I had peeled away my anger and shame at being called “stupid”, I would have seen the genius in that comment; it was a prompt to simplify in order to amplify what I was trying to achieve. It really has taken me years to learn that receiving bad feedback is not failing — even if it comes like a knuckle duster punch to the gut, rather than a sugar-encrusted pill accompanied by a Mary Poppins ditty.

LESSON 3: You only fail when you decide to give up on bringing your dream and your vision to reality.

I also have to take a deep breath to admit the most painful reason why I failed. I failed because I gave up on my vision after that. Instead of tenderly nurturing and watering it, I left it to die in shame. It has taken me 18 years to come full circle to gain the creative confidence to pick it up again. I can’t help but think where I would be today — and how much I would have achieved — if I had not given up at the first acrid taste of failure.

When we look at the world through the lens of success and failure, it prevents us from being able to send our brains into the free flow of curious creative experimentation.

Having learnt such valuable lessons from failure, why on earth would I say that failure is not an option? The funny thing about the universe is that when you don’t learn the lesson the first time, it gets thrown at you over and over again until you do. So I think I can justifiably say that over the last 18 years, I have become somewhat of an expert in failing, to the point where I have finally learnt the most important lesson of all: When we label our ideas that don’t work to the level we’d wanted or expected as ‘failure’, we actually shut down our innate ability to creatively problem-solve.

When we look at the world through the lens of success and failure, it prevents us from being able to send our brains into the free flow of curious creative experimentation. We become so consumed by the shame and fear of someone thinking we are stupid, that we hold our hands up in surrender before the first step can even be taken. We constrain our potential, and that brilliance that was on the tip of our tongues or fingertips is nipped in the bud before it’s been given the chance to blossom.

This is why failure is not an option. I beg of you not to embrace failure but rather to embrace the idea of experimentation, so that you can test the waters of what you are truly capable of without fear constraining your brilliance.

Currently based in The Netherlands, Daniella Sachs is a passionate entrepreneur driven by a mission to inspire more Africans to experience and fall in love with the continent. She has founded Know Your Tourist, a market intelligence startup, to help companies and entrepreneurs understand who the African tourist is, what they want, and how to best serve them. She is also cultivating the African Bucketlist, a community for avid African travellers to come together to share their insider scoops, experiences and stories.

--

--

The ROOM

Home to a highly specialised network of elite technology talent that will power the future.