Failure is essential in everybody’s lives. As a society, we have the wrong perspective on failure. We view it as something shameful and bad, when in fact this is far from true. If you change your perspective on failure and start viewing it as a natural part of the process towards achieving your goal, you take a lot of the pressure off yourself associated with the ‘fear of failure’.
A lot of the time people become very discouraged in the face of failure as they see it as the ‘end’ of their journey or path. They see it as the closing curtains and, more often than not, is the point at which they will give up. In fact, as mentioned, we must start looking at failure as part of the journey. These experiences of failure and challenges are what shape us into the individuals we are today and help us become who we need to be in order to achieve our goals.
It is important to start acknowledging that failure is bound to occur at some point along our journeys. This is crucial as it primarily takes away the ‘shock’ of failure. When we view failure as a natural part of the process, we are far less likely to be put down by it. Simply put, what failure enables us to do is to re-evaluate how we are approaching our goals and gives us an opportunity to assess how we can change our ways to become better.
So in a way, failure is good. It is a guide. It is an opportunity to switch up your approach to your goals and continue towards them.
However, what people tend to most be afraid of is not actually the failure itself, but the idea of other people judging their failures. It is about what other people will think about you if you fail. In a sense, it is natural to occupy yourself with what other people think about you – we are social beings after all, but it is also extremely emotionally draining and takes away energy you could be using to move towards your goal.
The environment we find ourselves in plays a big part in this. If we surround ourselves with people who are constantly focused on outcomes and goals, then we are more prone to be emotionally hit harder by failures. However, trying to surround yourself with people who are more process-focused will enable you to, firstly, enjoy the process more, but also shift your perspective into accepting failure as part of this process.
So failure forces us to adapt and overcome what caused us to fail in the first place.
People many times have a very rigid idea of how their goal has to be accomplished (their plan). Failure is there to help us realise that maybe we can approach things differently…
Before I dive into the two short stories below, I would like to take the chance to quickly explain my situation for people who do not know me. I was born with a disability known as cerebral palsy and my parents were told by many doctors when I was younger that I would never walk. Unphased by this, they started physiotherapy at 9 months old in an attempt to give me the best life possible. Here is a short video that summarises this well.
At a young age, I realised that my life was going to be difficult. The earliest moment I remember having this realisation was this…
The Feeling of Pity
I was 7 years old in a PE class. We were tasked with completing an obstacle course which I still vividly remember. This involved climbing, running, jumping and some monkey bars. When my turn finally came, I very quickly realised that obstacle by obstacle I was unable to finish the course. No matter how hard I tried, I could not complete them.
I remember clearly the look on all of the PE teacher’s faces as they felt uncomfortable in not knowing how to react. It was as if I could hear their thoughts of embarrassment until they finally just let me skip all of the obstacles. What’s more, I could see the pity on each and every one of my classmates faces, which was the real slap in the face. This made me not only uncomfortable, as I know everyone felt sorry for me, but it also made me realise how different I was.
If I wanted to keep up with the other kids I knew there and then that I would have to work at those things more consistently and much harder. I knew that to achieve the simplest things that people could do with little to no effort I would have to work 2-3x harder.
Naturally, I was sad, but this was also a huge moment of clarity for me where I made the decision that I wanted to be independent and that I would do anything it took to make that possible. I accepted it, I knuckled down and I worked towards my goals. It was a pivotal moment in my life where I set in stone what I wanted to achieve.
Now the most important part I would like to emphasise is: I am not saying that when we fail we should not be disappointed. Of course it is natural to feel disappointed and upset – that is all part of experiencing failure. But there comes a point where you have to move past that. You must ask yourself after you have failed, “What has this experience shown me?” “How can I be better next time round?” It is difficult, but transformative.
And this is a lesson I have learned several times in my life. Another stand-out moment was when I had just gone to university to start studying drums at Los Angeles College of Music (LACM). During my first few weeks of studies, I had to perform in front of the whole class, and it is safe to say that my performance was awful (or at least it felt so). The teacher in the class stared pensively at my legs and after a few seconds pointed at them and in front of the whole class said, “So what’s the deal with your whole physical situation..?”, as he gestured generically at my legs. “If this isn’t really going to change, I suggest you do something else with your life. Drumming really isn’t for you…”
Understandably, this was a devastating and embarrassing moment for me, especially as this was in front of the whole class. I could feel everyone in that room staring at me and judging me. It was one of those moments where you wish the Earth would just swallow you up.
What’s worse, is that this comment really got to me. It made me start contemplating “maybe I am not good enough. I am so much worse than everyone here. Maybe I should just quit.” And for a couple of days I did – I stopped drumming. It felt like I had failed.
However, very soon after, I realised how much I missed drumming. I had to start again and so I channeled these comments into fuel to become better. So much preparation and practice had gone into getting accepted into LACM, I was not going to let one professor take it away from me. The comments lit a fire within me that drove me to keep on practicing and become better.
I was carrying all of this anger and sadness and using that as motivation. “I’m going to shove it in his face.” But a key lesson I realised somewhere along the way though was that it was not about proving my teacher wrong. It was about proving myself right. Proving myself right and not others wrong. Once again, it was about perspective.
Throughout my time at LACM this event was a key motivational driver for me, and actually ended up being a great thing as the program was very demanding. There were 15 people in my class, only 3 graduated. I was one of them.
Even though at the time it was heartbreaking, it was something that ended up giving me strength, motivation and a sense of purpose. In a separate article, I talk about the importance of having a sense of purpose for success.
It is inevitable in life that we will all experience many failures, some greater than others. It is important, therefore, that we learn how to embrace these. It is easy to become entangled in a negative downward spiral in the face of failure, but we should instead use these moments as a great opportunity for growth.
The key takeaways I would like you to remember are:
- You must shift your perspective. Stop seeing failures as the end of the road, but instead a fork in the road. Take every failure as a learning opportunity and if you need to switch up your approach to achieve success, then do so!
- Look back on your life and identify times you have failed but overcame it. Ask yourself, “What did I learn about myself? How can I apply this to my life today?” It’s all about recognising what you can learn from situations like this that can make you better today.
- Remember your purpose. As discussed, purpose is an extremely powerful tool in overcoming difficulties. Remembering why you started something will help you face challenges head on.
Failure is a stepping stone to success. With these 3 approaches you can start to see failure differently. It is not a signal for giving up, it is simply part of the journey…