“The essence of man is imperfection. Know that you're going to make mistakes. The fellow who never makes a mistake takes his orders from one who does. Wake up and realize this: Failure is simply a price we pay to achieve success.” - John C. Maxwell, Failing Forward
Back in school, getting it right, the first time, meant being rewarded. Gold Star. A+. Getting it wrong meant being punished D-. Go to summer school.
We’ve been taught to fear the shame of failure. According to this research done by UC Berkeley professor Martin Covington, we protect our self worth by avoiding failure, so we can believe we are competent and project that competence out to others. It’s a pretty insecure way to live.
Perhaps it’s time for us grown up children to plaster The Myth Busters’ motto on our bathroom mirrors. The sign on their lab wall says: Failure is Always an Option. Because failure is a requirement of success in science. Science, arguably humanity's greatest achievement, is based on systemizing failure. A scientific hypothesis must be falsifiable. Failure never ends a study. It is simply feedback requiring a tweak to the hypothesis.
Things to remember about risk and failure:
It’s not about your self worth. It’s just something you tried:
Shelve the feeling of demoralization that you’ve associated with failure. You made a decision you assumed was right. It was based on a wrong assumption, not a character flaw. The assumption needs tweaked. Your character and worth remain the same.
Life is not Pass/Fail:
Consider everything you do, every risk you take as a test. Not a pass/fail test. A product test. Failure is simply feedback. If the product fails, you fix the failure and test again. Every successful product you use went through rigorous testing to get to the point of a consumer-worthy lifecycle. The Wright brothers did not design a commercial aircraft.
Try smiling at your failures. No really. “Well, looks like that one didn’t work out. Shrug. Smile. But I’m looking forward to the next (job, marriage, college, book, business).” According to this Berkley.edu article, “Research has found that people who practice self-compassion recover more quickly from failure and are more likely to try new things—mainly because they know they won’t face a negative barrage of self-talk if they fail.”
And finally, try and rebrand failure. The opposite of failure is not success. The opposite of failure is action.