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

Embrace Failure

A woman with her head in her hands, crying

(Note: This post was originally published, in a slightly different form, at Words on a Page, and appears here via a Creative Commons license.)


It’s not a four-letter word, but it’s treated like one. It supposedly has a stench. If nothing else, failure has a number of negative connotations — both perceptually and psychologically.

Failure isn’t a word many of us like to hear. But 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 crush you. It’s a force that forces you to pull back from a trying something and not try it again.

As blogger Ivan Walsh wrote:

The problem is that we don’t fail enough.

If you want to be a chess grandmaster, then you need to play (and get beat 100s) of times to build up the critical mass of knowledge that’s required.

It’s when you don’t learn from failure, then you’ve got a problem.

I think that the reason we don’t fail enough is because we never allow ourselves to fail. Most people tend to play it safe. They insulate themselves from failure by staying within their own comfort zones. They never try to break free. If they do, they do so half heartedly.

The stones on the path to success are formed from failure. It’s not always failure on a grand scale, either. Little failures, small screw ups, help shape us.

To grow in any profession or even just as a person, you need to experience failure. And how you respond to failure will help determine whether or not you’ll succeed.

Here’s an example: say you’re a technical writer who wants to branch out into copywriting or penning whitepapers. Two very lucrative areas with a lot of competition. On top of that, copywriting and whitepaper writing aren’t as easy as they seem.

You can be sure that your first attempts at banging out copy or a whitepaper will be less than spectacular. If you’re doing it for a client or your employer, what you produce will probably be rejected. With some level of prejudice. A lot of people will pack it in when that happens.

If you really want to succeed, though, you’ll look at this failure with a critical and impartial eye. Well, once the initial sting of failure fades. Look at why your attempt failed. Ask the people who turned you down why they turned you down.

Analyze. Learn. Make more mistakes. Fail a few more times. As Ivan said, build up the critical mass of knowledge that’s required. Once you do that, failure in that area will be a thing of the past (more or less). After that, you should have the confidence to move on to something new.

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