You’ve gone and done it. You’ve failed. An opportunity that once filled you with the joy of expectation is now lying in a mangled wreck all around you. And you’re in the middle of it all, wondering how it things could ever get this messed up, afraid of what comes next.
This article is going to show you how to rise from failure.
Contrary to what school teaches us throughout our academic careers, failure is a gift. It’s not something to be feared.
By the end of this article your fear of failure (if you have any) will be cast in a new light. Leaving you a little readier to take the risks you need to take to craft a life you love.
What Does It Mean To Fail?
The first thing we have to do is establish a definition. What is failure? Or, rather, what have we been taught about failure?
In school, failure means to miss the mark. You were asked a closed question with one answer and provided the wrong one. You missed, and thus, were penalized for it by the schooling system. Your grade will suffer. If you’re an aspiring med school student, you’ll hyperventilate.
So in school, failure means to be wrong. There’s nothing more you can do about it. It’s the end of the story.
But in the school of life, there is never one right answer; there are as many right answers as there are people on the planet. And there is only one way to arrive at our own “right” answer.
Failure means you’re growing. That’s how we human beings grow, through failure.
And you know what else grows? Everything that’s alive grows. Plants grow. Fungi grow. Bacteria, insects and animals grow. Life is growth. To be a living being means to be in the process of growth.
What does it mean when a living being stops growing? Decay. Death, eventually. While every living being has a natural period of growth and decay, in our quest for security, many of us have allowed our time for growth to become time for decay.
Which is tragic.
I once had a yoga instructor who said “In life you either change for the better or for the worse. You never stay the same.”
Failure is the hallmark of human growth. If you’re failing, it’s because you’re trying something new. You’re expanding your horizons and heading to new harbors.
How you feel about failure directly relates to how much you gain from it. We’ll look at that now.
How Does Failure Feel To You?
Because we’ve been conditioned by school and media to perceive failure as something negative, the vast majority of us lead lives afraid of failure. So we go through life living as safely as possible, sticking to answering the questions we know. We stay in our secure little world, controlling everything we can.
But that control is an illusion. And the more lost we are in the illusion, the greater the suffering when life shatters it. That’s what life does. In ways we never expect, life comes in and breaks everything apart. Reminding us who’s really in charge.
So what happens to humans when we live afraid of failure?
We don’t grow. We decay in life.
Fear is the mountainous obstacle we must overcome if we are to create a magnificent life. And we must overcome it every day.
So I ask you now to take a little time to reflect.
When do you experience fear of failure? Can you think about a time in your life recently when you experienced fear of failure? Take time to think about it. Becoming aware of when we are afraid of failing is crucial to facing our fear. If we aren’t aware of something we can’t respond to it.
I can tell you a time in my life when I feel afraid of failing. It’s when I’m skiing down hills.
The Pain Of Skiing
I’ve been living in Canada with my girlfriend for the past year. During that time we’ve taken up cross-country skiing.
I grew up in Mexico City. There wasn’t much skiing to be done there.
Learning how to ski has been an exercise in facing my fear of failure. Now that I’m an adult, I feel afraid as I ride down hills with skis attached to my feet. The steeper the hill, the more I feel like the situation is out of my control; it takes all my focus and bodily control to be able to stay standing as I slide down. I’m afraid I’ll fall (fail).
I often do. Sometimes I hurt myself.
Do you know what happens every time I fall? I learn. See, pain is one of life’s greatest teachers. Human beings have evolved to move away from pain and towards pleasure.
Whether you’re aware of it or not, your body has a mind of its own. It remembers everything that happens to you. Through a complex and miraculous set of biological mechanisms, our bodies and brains accurately remember the events leading up to a painful failure.
Every time we fail, we learn, whether we’re aware of it or not. And the more emotionally/physically painful the experience, the deeper the lesson (this is why trauma gets stored in the body and brain. And why heartbreak is a powerful teacher).
Pain Is A Teacher
“Every hurt is a lesson.”
That’s what Syrio Forel tells Arya at the start of their first dancing lesson in King’s Landing (Game of Thrones reference).
Over the past year of cross-country skiing, every time I fell, my body and brain learned. The pain I experienced when I fell inscribed the lesson into my body and brain.
Which is another way of saying that my body and brain learned how not to fall. Every time I fell, my body and brain said “Well, that hurt. We’ll try something different next time. Maybe bend the knees more. Also, tilt the feet out.”
Then I would try again, succeed a tiny bit more and fail again. At which point my body and brain would say “Did you feel that!? It was pleasurable! Next time we need to make sure to keep the ski angled inwards!”
All of this happened unconsciously. Just like when I learned to walk. Most of us don’t need to think in order to walk, we just do it. Walking is a symphony of muscle contractions and extensions. If we were to stop and think about each part of the walking sequence we would trip ourselves up. This is what self-improvement authors mean when they write “Get out of your own way.”
In this way, through trying, failing, getting back up and failing again, over and over again, I learned how to ski down a hill without falling.
Failure taught me.
Nothing could have replicated the teachings of failure. No coach, nor instruction video nor advanced skiing equipment could have taught me what failure taught me.
I had to try and fail for my body and brain to learn through pain.
How To Rise From Failure Higher Than Before
There’s a universal human law here. To learn from failure we only have to do one thing: get back up and go again.
You’ll do things differently the second time around. You won’t even have to think about it. Your body and brain will remember for you. In fact, if you think about it you’ll just get in the way. The only thing you’re responsible for is getting up and going again.
We can take time to reflect on the failure. Analyze it, study it, do all that, if we want to. But the real learning happens subconsciously. The real learning gets inscribed in our bodies and in our primitive brains, which is where most of our decisions are made. Real learning is emotional.
We can read all about the successes and failures of renowned business people, athletes and scientists. That can inform us, open up new avenues to express our creativity, discover new things to try. But what we learn from reading is useless until we apply it in our lives.
And it’s in the application when we will fail.
The single greatest determinant on whether we will learn from that failure or not is our perspective.
Do we view failure as something to be avoided? Or do we view it as a sign that we’re growing?
The second perspective promotes astounding growth. I recently began recasting my failures as indicators of my growth. It has unlocked new reserves of power for me. I highly recommend it.
Whenever you fail think: “This is me growing.” It totally changes the game.
One More Thing – There’s Nothing Wrong With Quitting
Quitting has a bad name in our civilization. But there’s nothing wrong with quitting. Sometimes ideas have to die for better ones to take their place. If we don’t find meaning in something, why keep on doing it? life is too short to engage in meaninglessness.
If something is meaningless to us, the best thing we can do for ourselves is quit doing it!
But what if you can’t quit the activity? For example, you’re a family provider and have to work a job you find meaningless to pay the bills. Well, then quit a little bit. Start looking for another way forward. Think and create new options for yourself. You’re a powerful human being.
For example, I found no meaning in working to earn a PhD, which I was doing a few years back. I had two options. Keep going down a meaningless path or quitting and finding something meaningful.
People advised me to keep going. I had a great setup, any graduate student would have loved to have what I did.
But I Found It All Meaningless!
Why would I keep going?
So I quit. I relied on my savings to get me to Europe, where I started living with my long-distance girlfriend. There, I took up writing and taught languages on my own. I wasn’t earning as much as I was before, but I found meaning in what I was doing.
And with meaning we can surmount any obstacle.
So after failing, I got up and kept going. I started growing.
And I’m much happier and much more powerful for it today. I know myself better; I have an intimate awareness of my desires, strengths and weaknesses. All thanks to failing, getting back up and going again. I would have never discovered myself without failing.
Just like with skiing.
If we allow fear of failure to stop us from quitting a meaningless activity, we prevent ourselves from finding one which we find meaningful. Without meaning we have nothing; we crumble at the first sign of difficulty. Without meaning we cannot get back up after we fall.
So we don’t learn.
The only person who can decide whether an activity is meaningless or not is us. In the end, we’re the ones who will have to live with the consequences of our choices.
Fail More To Learn More
If you feel a little more open to the idea of failure as being an irreplaceable teacher, then the article has served its purpose.
Surrendering to our fear of failure stunts our growth. The things we fear are where our greatest growth lies. We can treat fear as a friend. If we follow it, it will lead us to growth. Don’t follow fear into a snake nest, though. We do need some fear to keep us alive.
A good way to determine whether you’re growing or not is to ask yourself, When was the last time I fell?
We fall so often as children, it’s no surprise that’s when we learn the most. As we age, we become afraid of falling; we allow our bodies to become brittle and our brains to decay in the realm of the known. We stop falling.
We don’t just stop falling physically. We also stop failing in every realm of life. Too much security kills us. Human beings evolved to keep on failing, right up until the day we expire.
If we aren’t failing, we’re not growing. Which means we’re decaying in life.
Failure keeps things exciting! It keeps us growing! Allow yourself to fail, get back up and keep going! You’ll be amazed at what you learn.
When was the last time you failed at something? Leave comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!
To our wealth and success.