The Truth About Failure

Most people have a very negative association with the word “failure”. That one little word carries so much weight in our minds and it tends be loaded with so much meaning and negative energy. I call it the other F-word. Well, I’m going to come right out and say it: I’m a failure. There, I said it. What many of us often forget or don’t realize is that the road to success is paved with many failures. What tends to happen to many of us is that somewhere along the way, we fail and we decide that we’re not going to get where we’re going so we give up. The irony of it is that what actually stops us from succeeding or reaching our goals is not failure itself, it’s how we respond to failure. It’s how we interpret our failures and what we make them mean. Things like: “I’m not good enough, I can’t do it, I’ll never be able to do X, Y or Z, I don’t deserve to have my dreams come true, to be in a loving relationship, to be successful…blah, blah, blah.” Sound familiar? Maybe not because the voice that says these things is very sneaky. It shows up at our weakest moments and kicks us while we’re down or even worse still, it speaks up when we are so close to the finish line and tries to convince us to give up on a goal we’ve been working towards for so long.

Why is that? Well, it’s very simple. Many of us learned this distorted perception of failure at a young age and have carried it forward into our adult lives. We may have failed a test in school and were traumatized by the associated stigma. We may have liked someone in our adolescent years only to get our heart broken and decided never to express our feelings again. The examples are endless but the pattern is the same. We fail at something and we take that failure as conclusive evidence that we’re not worthy or capable of the thing we’re after, that it’s not going to happen and so we might as well give up. Right? Wrong!

Failure is nothing more than a failed attempt, a step towards our goal, an opportunity to learn and adjust. All we hear about or see in the media are the glory days of those who are successful. What we don’t see is the streak of failure after failure that got them there. As a young singer and actress, Lady Gaga auditioned unsuccessfully for a number of New York productions and despite early acceptance to NYU, she dropped out in her sophomore year. What if she had let those so-called failures stop her from pushing on? Michael Jordan, one of the greatest and most revered athletes of our time, got cut from his high school basketball team. And what did he do in the face of that failure? He kept working on his game. He overcame that small hurdle and went on to succeed, change the face of basketball forever and inspire an entire generation of future athletes. Imagine how tragic it would have been if these icons just decided in those moments that they didn’t have what it took and gave up.

The truth is that failure isn’t really a bad thing at all. It’s actually a necessary part of the path to success and it’s what we do with our failures (and there will be many) that will ultimately determine if, how and when we succeed. So we can either retreat in defeat the next time we fall short of the mark or embrace the experience, learn from it and see it as bringing us that much closer to our desired goal. We are all capable and worthy of greatness, so let’s not let our lives become the story of what could have been. Let’s keep on pushing, keep on believing, keep learning in the face of our failures until we succeed and see our dreams come to life.

Written for The Daily Love (Sept. 3rd, 2011)

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