The human tendency is to avoid failure at all costs. In fact, we’re so dead set on avoiding failure that we position ourselves so that we’re no longer aiming for success. Sticking to the “fallible yet proud” profile of human nature, we go to excruciating lengths to avoid making mistakes, but once we do, we move mountains to erase them from our life’s resume. Why are we so dead set on avoiding situations where failure is an option, when failure is such a critical piece to success?
Because we’re in a success-driven society that doesn’t reward defeat. We’re not raised high on a platform and celebrated with confetti blasts when we get fourth place. Instead, we get insincere pats on the back and excruciatingly awkward “you did great, pal!” remarks. You won’t find any “they failed, and that was the key to their success!” instances in the history books, because history is written by the victors. We’re shown that failure is a deficiency—that failure means that somewhere along the line, we screwed up and, as a result, we are just not good enough.
But behind every success, there’s a backstory of sweat, tears and most importantly, failure. You’ve probably heard the story of Thomas Edison, whose prized invention, the lightbulb, took him over 1,000 tries before he came through with a successful prototype: “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” a reporter asked. “I didn’t fail 1,000 times,” Edison responded. “The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
There are countless cases of entrepreneurs, athletes and normal human beings like you and me failing to succeed. My openness to failure was a critical aspect in what ultimately led to me overcoming my fear too. It’s the person who tries high-reward, high-risk things, and experiences failures that will be more creative and more willing to take the necessary steps to succeed.
The association we make that mistakenly pairs failure with deficiency and being wrong with stupidity is the formula for a highly controlled and mediocre life. We couldn’t be any more wrong about what it means to be wrong. It has nothing to do with intellectual inferiority or an inability to achieve. In order to continue our development, we must recognize that the capacity to err is crucial to mental and emotional growth.
The mentality that mistakes are bad and that one must strive for perfection leads to the belief that if we fly under the radar to avoid attention, reduce our waves to a ripple and stick to making the same safe decisions repeatedly, we’ll avoid getting yelled at for screwing things up. Consequently, we’ll avoid achieving anything truly remarkable.
Well, Roy, I don’t want to be the next Thomas Edison or a pioneer for global change! All I want is to overcome my fear of public speaking! All this hogwash of “make mistakes” and “failures are good” doesn’t apply to me!
You don’t have to be on a mission to cure world hunger to adopt the “mistakes are positive” mindset. When the reward of your success is something worthwhile, in this case, learning to enjoy public speaking, accepting failure for what it is—a stepping stone—is key. It’s time to start celebrating your failures. You gain confidence and become braver every time you feel fear, realize the potential for failure, and act anyways. The more you face your fear and act against its suggestions, the quicker you’ll realize, “I’ve fought through fear before. I’ve failed and lifted myself up. I can do whatever comes my way.”
So, the next time you forget the memory stick containing your presentation, forget what you were talking about mid-sentence, or completely butcher what was supposed to be the best part of your talk, know that every time this happens, you continue adding steps to the ladder to reach your fear. The closer you get to your fear, the less power fear has over your life and your decisions. And once you meet fear face to face, it’s finally time for you to dictate the role it should have.