Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Thoughts About Failure

Fail. It’s a four-letter word, but no matter what so many people say it’s not a bad one. While most of us don’t want to hear words like fail and failure, there’s nothing wrong with failing.

But we’ve been conditioned to believe that everything we do must be successful the first time out. Failure, we’re told, has a stench. Failure has a number of negative connotations — both perceptually and psychologically.

Failure is more than a word or an idea, though. It’s a force that can mold you. A force that can drive you to strive to succeed. Or a force that can cause you to pull back from a trying something and not try it again.

I’ve failed at a number of things over the years. But what I took away from those failures made me a better person and a better professional.

In the end, I was able to take away two lessons from failing: failing teaches and failing focuses.

Failure Teaches

If you’re doing some kind of work, that work might get rejected. Quite harshly in some cases. Learn from that. Look at your failure with a critical and impartial eye once the initial sting fades. Look at what went wrong. Asked the people who rejected your work why they turned it down.

Analyze. Learn. Make more mistakes. Fail a few more times. Once you do that, failure in that area will be a thing of the past (more or less). You’ll have the confidence to move on to something new.

For the longest time, I was horrible at writing reports and whitepapers. I either missed some key message, or included too much detail in them. There were other minor problems with my work, too. But I made an effort to learn and improve. Now, I’m quite comfortable with writing reports and whitepapers even though I don’t do it very often.

Failure Focuses

It shows us areas in which we’re weak and things that we’re not good at. By having those weak areas pointed out to us, we can either take steps to get better or abandon that something and concentrate on areas in which we’re strong (or will become strong).

You need to pay attention to your failure in order to focus. If you’re passionate about something and are enjoying it, then taking the time and making the effort to get better is definitely a worthwhile investment.

However, if you’re not improving no matter what you do or if you’ve lost your passion or enjoyment then it’s time to throw in the towel. You’re not going to be good or great at everything you do, so why not cut your losses and move on?

Over the years, I’ve tried and failed to learn three languages. I quickly got to a certain level of proficiency with each of them (and that level varied from language to language). After that, I didn’t just hit a plateau. I ran into a big, thick wall. No matter what I did, no matter how I pivoted I couldn’t break through that barrier. I lost my enthusiasm and eventually called it quits —usually too late. I was wasting a lot of time and energy that I could have used to do things in other areas.

Final Thought

Failure is not a bad thing. It’s something you should allow yourself to do. And you need to embrace that failure. Many people don’t fail enough is because they never allow themselves to fail. They tend to play it safe and insulate themselves from failure by locking themselves in their own comfort zones. They rarely, if ever, try to break free.

Don’t be that person. Embrace your failures. Learn from them. Let those failures focus you. In the end, you’ll be a better person for it.

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