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BY Katie Marshall
Success is not in how many times you are defeated, but whether or not you keep going. We know this. There is endless rhetoric surrounding why losers quit and failures give up, yet so little that explains the merit and profundity and beauty of failure. What it gives us, what it teaches us, and why so many people are suffering not because they aren’t succeeding, but because they aren’t on the right path.
When I say “failure is not an option” to myself, it’s most likely right before I do something whose success I will later hinge my self-worth on. It’s when I’m daydreaming up a fantastic speech to inspire a group of people to save the world from alien attack or thinking about what I would tell myself before stepping into a boxing ring for The Big Fight that I imagine not ever giving up. So many of my daydreams involve fights that I get into and win. So much of my goal setting behavior is based on the win, completely disregarding the fight, and thus dismissing any opportunity to fail.
We’re taught that “failure is not an option,” so we also don’t know how to let go, or change ideas, evolve, move on, or follow a better suited path. This idea leaves no room to try, fail, try again, learn, and do better. It cages you, and it ultimately serves to protect you from a fear of failure.
People who say “failure is not an option” aren’t usually being driven toward their dreams – they are fleeing from the feeling that they have already failed.
Living in fear of failure (so much so that you ultimately deny it’s existence) creates a self-induced pressure to deliver every single time; even though you know you’re not going to do it perfectly, you still expect yourself to. It’s confusing. It feels like long, rambling lectures to yourself on drives home from work after you missed another deadline or half-hearted pump-up speeches before work outs or classes when you demand the absolute best and nothing less, even though you know you haven’t eaten enough, you know you’re tired, and you know that if you could just take this moment and learn from these failures and change your actions in the future, you could get better someday, but you’re asking yourself to be the best now, and that is it. It feels like compromising what you could really be for some unattainable picture of perfection now. It feels like arrogance. It feels like wearing a mask. It feels hollow.
By denying the existence of failure, we seal our fate. What we push away the most happens. When we do not allow ourselves to fail, we fail. And then we fall.
So how do we get back up?
We get back up by realizing that there is more to us than just what we can accomplish. The parts of us that are lazy and tired and unmotivated and angry and sad and apathetic are valid, and it is in denying their existence that we feel driven toward the kind of success that convinces us we are invincible.
I have to believe that the same person who gave a TED Talk can also binge-watch “Making a Murderer” until too late in the night and the same person who writes for the majority of her professional career loses to the computer at Scrabble regularly and while she can remember to send her mom a birthday present on time every year she misses her credit card bill due date more often than not because I am that person. I am real. So are my successes. So must be my failures.
Failure is real. It is possible. Failing is key to adaptation. You successfully create something by trying out all of the options that do not work. Failure does not impede progress. It galvanizes it. And if you allow failure, you can accept that failure does not diminish your value. It does not tarnish self-worth. It’s okay. Failure could teach us more than safe, for-sure success could and thus actually increase value and your ability to do good in the world. It could actually be a good thing. Most often, it is.
It is a mechanism of our consciousness to fail. It is a mechanism of our egos to resist and deny it. It is in reconciling the two that we actually succeed.