Before we start I just want to point out that over the years, I have tried to eradicate the word failure from my vocab. It’s harsh, negative and not an accurate reflection of the situation that occurred. However I use the word failure here, as the alternative title “why not doing things as well as one hoped would turn out is actually a good thing” is a bit of a mouthful.
The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of failure is simply “a lack of success” which actually isn’t as hard a definition as we humans seem to translate it into. We seem to think that the definition of failure is being a let-down, unworthy, or useless. Just this fact alone highlights to me that “failure” isn’t as bad as we think, but is it any good for us?
Over the years I have failed at many things: passing my driving test the first time, my AS levels, a business venture with my dad, the cheesecake addiction and I could go on and on. But then again I have also not failed at so much more: I won two gold medals in an international martial arts competition, I successfully travelled Australia on my own, I am grade 5 in piano, and I’m finally leaning Japanese. However I seem to have a terrible habit of dwelling on the negatives rather than celebrating and relishing in the positives. I suspect I am not the only one either.
Society seems to have a huge hang up on failure, using it to define us, stop us from trying again and living the life we want. But I strongly believe that failure is in fact a good thing and that we could all do with a healthy dose of it once in a while. Here are 6 reasons why failure is actually beneficial. Use them to your advantage.
Failure benefit #1: It provides a reality check on where we are at
When I failed my AS levels I was devastated. I felt that I had seriously and irreversibly failed. My dream since I was 13 was to go to university and be the first of my family to attend a university. I knew that if I didn’t get good A level grades I would lose my chance. It also didn’t help what the career advisor had said that I wasn’t academic enough to go to university. However why did I fail my AS levels, if university was something I had dreamed of for the past 4 years?! Put simply, I wasn’t in the right mind frame. I wasn’t happy and that was having bad effect on my study. Sometimes failing at something, even if you truly desire it, is an indication that something elsewhere isn’t right. Use failure as a light to reveal what is really going on with your situation.
Failure benefit #2: The lessons learned are priceless
A few years ago, my parents and I bought a guesthouse and bar in Cambodia with a friend of my dad’s as a partner in the venture – the expat’s dream of sun, sea and serving drinks to happy holiday makers and fellow expats who have escaped the rat race. Bliss. However, 9 months down the line and we had lost our investment and sold our share. We cut our losses and got out. The dream was gone. It has always been my ambition since I was 15 to open my own businesses, mainly a tea room, so buying the bar was an exciting venture and adventure. How did our dream go wrong so quickly?
In hindsight, because we didn’t manage it as well as we could have from the very start and problem after problem meant that our profit was being eaten into like a hungry caterpillar. After the initial hurt and anger I came to realise that the lessons learned from this failure are priceless. I learned a great deal about carving out a business plan, forging a successful business partnership and how the small details in business matter. If I could turn back time, would I do this all again? Hell yes! I learned more with the failure of the guesthouse and bar then I ever would from a guru’s “how to” book. Failure gives you an opportunity to learn from your mistaken actions and do what’s right the next time round.
Failure benefit #3: This isn’t a “one shot only” world
Luckily for us, we live in a prosperous world, one where there isn’t just one opportunity to do anything. There are always second chances. Sometimes third. For Edison, there were 1,000 chances to invent the light bulb! If you fail once, then try again. Just don’t be foolish enough to make the same mistakes again. When I was younger and new to the property game (I as fortunate to be able to buy a flat to rent at 19 with an inheritance) I made the cardinal sin of being too soft, not collecting rent and being too lenient as the month’s rolled on and I hadn’t received a cheque from my tenant.
One year later, a looming court case, an emotional rollercoaster and £5,000 down, I had well and truly failed. However, will I make this mistake again? No. I have learned, moved on, recovering my losses and now looking to buy my second property to rent. Failure teaches us to learn from our mistakes so that the next time we can avoid making the same ones. There will be another time – this world is full of second chances and opportunities, just don’t be too blinded from the hurt of your previous failure to see them.
Failure benefit #4: It builds strength of character
Anyone can be the hero when times are good but how do you measure up when the going gets tough? Do you crumble like a sandcastle or do you stand your ground and keep smiling, focusing on where you want to be? Take a moment to think about that before you consider yourself a failure. Going through a failure is a remarkable test of your character, your courage, your determination and your mind set. I truly believe that it isn’t until you’ve been through the worse that you can truly appreciate the best. Failure is kind of like a bench mark. It will show you what you are made of. Hopefully it’s steel.
Failure benefit #5: It drives you on
You can use the experience of failure to your advantage or not. The best way to use it is to help spur you on to do better next time. Use it as a tool for determination and grit to drive towards success. Don’t use it to drive you towards a box of tissues and cowering under the duvet.
Failure benefit #6: Those who have failed before made in the long run
If you think that those who “made it” were lucky or that it was handed to them on a plate, then think again. Here are some of my favourite success-over-failure stories. I hope they motivate you as much as they do me.
Steven Spielberg was rejected from the University of Southern California School of Theatre, Film and Television… three times! Whilst he did eventually attend school at another location, he did so only to drop out to become a director before finishing. He didn’t give up however and 35 years after starting his degree, Spielberg returned to school in 2002 to finally complete his work and earn his BA.
Steve Jobs was technically a failure as a college dropout, a fired tech executive and an unsuccessful businessman. At 30 years old he was actually removed from the company he founded. In a 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University, Jobs explained, “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”
Sylvester Stallone had it rough as a child, being taunted in school and constantly in and out of foster homes. As an adult, things didn’t improve as he was unable to earn a steady income, and even had to sell his dog for $25.00 to help pay his electricity bill. It was only 2 weeks after selling his dog that he wrote the Rocky script in nearly 20 hours straight. After being rejected over 1,500 times (that’s more than Edison’s failure!), Stallone was given a nod by United Artists for $125,000… but only if Stallone would not star in it. Stallone refused. Even when he was subsequently offered $250,000 and $325,000, he still refused as he wanted to star in it. He finally reached a compromise, starring in the film but only taking $35,000 and a percentage of profits as a concession. What was Stallone’s first purchase with his $35,000? His beloved dog, for $15,000! But I am sure he could afford it seeing as Rocky grossed over $200,000,000 and his sequels grossed over a billion dollars!!
“When life knocks you down, try and land on your back, because if you can look up, you can get up” – Les Brown
Featured photo credit: Sarah Reid via flickr.com