My biggest victories in life have come after my biggest failures.
But I never saw it that way until recently.
Like most people, I used to live my life with an absolute, relentless and hyper-focused avoidance of failure…
“I can’t lose.” “We must win.” “I don’t know what the hell I will do if I lose at this moment.”
And society reinforces that message every single day, in every single way. If our team loses it’s devastating. If we don’t get that job, assignment or promotion, it’s terrible. We are taught to strive for the biggest, the best, the flashiest, the newest…win, win, win at any cost. Failure is for losers!
And the worst part of this cultural mindset is how we pass it on to our kids.
“You cannot get a bad grade or you are a failure.” “You better play well and score in this game today.” “If you don’t get into this school, you failed to reach your potential.”
I became a Buddhist a few years ago and one of the core philosophies of our practice is that we embrace our failures. We celebrate them. We see them as blessings. Because in those failures lie our ability to grow, learn and develop as human beings.
Think about it in your own life. When you succeed at something, you celebrate. We don’t look back and try to find the lessons in our successes. When we “stretch” ourselves, when we push ourselves and when we accept our failures, that’s when we grow the most. And often, if you succeed at something a lot, you develop a false sense of arrogance and actual complacency. You expect success and then perhaps get crushed when you don’t.
When I look back at my life, I see how my failures have really shaped me.
My failures in school led me to ultimately find my professional passion. I was a horrible student growing up. D’s were a goal. C’s a dream. I was told over and over again I would amount to nothing. I found the things I would eventually do for a profession by failing at so many others things. And I ultimately found success in my career by finding my passion for writing.
My failures in relationships led me to find my soul mate — they forced me to face and understand hard truths about myself and therefore work on those things.
My initial failures during the launch of my second career in technology made me learn how to be a better manager and entrepreneur.
My failures at a million small things and learning to embrace them have made my life one without regrets or fears. Without fear of failure, I literally now walk through life with nothing to lose.
One of my kids is struggling at a particular subject in school. My wife and I talked about it and realized how important it was to let him fail. Not recklessly. If he asks for help, we will 100% be there for him. But preventing him from failing is depriving him from a learning experience. And when (if) he does fail, it will teach him hopefully that for the rest of his life, failure isn’t death, it’s simply a lesson waiting to be learned. And the best way to grow.
If we push our kids that only A’s and Honors are acceptable, how are we teaching them to take risks in their lives? Because in that scenario, why would they ever attempt things out of their “A” comfort zone?
I coach my kids in sports. Last year, one of my kid’s teams lost every game. Sad faces all season. But I kept smiling. I knew this was ok and that there was a lesson to be learned in this situation. This year they came back with a renewed determination and won every game. Unless they tasted what failure was like, they never would have celebrated their ultimate successes with such joy.
We live in a culture where kids get trophies for simply being on the team. Where everyone has to win. Where perfection is everything — from our kids’ successes to our phony Instagram posts — and failing is to be avoided . Who out there is talking about their failures with pride anymore?!?
Look at history though. Look at the great innovations. Look at the people who take the greatest risks and yet are responsible for the greatest breakthroughs. They all celebrated and embraced their failures.
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Michael Jordan
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas A. Edison
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” Robert F. Kennedy
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill
“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” Napoleon Hill
Think of people today like Elon Musk and his ability to admit and learn from his failed attempts to launch his rockets. He doesn’t hide from them, he embraces them. I am not suggesting we should all strive to be Elon Musk, but we should learn from his and history’s proud embrace of failure.
I recently read an article about a study done on dying people’s regrets. The biggest regret they cited was not taking risks in their lives. And sadly, perhaps that’s because we are all conditioned to avoid failure.
So next time you or your kids or your friend or colleague fail, embrace it. Celebrate it. There is a bigger lesson there waiting to be discovered. And a bigger victory right around the corner. If you run and hide from it, you will never see it.
I will leave you with more examples of people who have failed miserably…