Failure: Friend or Foe

A friend once told me, “Failure is a great strengthening tool!” Yes! Yes it is. But to truly appreciate how strength exists within our failures,  I have found it helpful to understand what failure means.

At its origin, failure simply means a “nonoccurrence”. One of the most popular definitions of failure is simply, “the lack of success”. This means failure is defined by one’s definition of success, and nothing in this definition of failure implies there isn’t value in experiencing failure. But how often does our society pressure young men and women into thinking being on top of the food chain is the only thing that matters? Be the best husband, the best wife, the best worker, the best son, the best daughter, the best athlete, the best student, and the list goes on. Worse yet, many swing so far the other direction that the idea of “success” is completely destroyed. Participation trophies for everyone! It’s pretty hard to learn from failure if you are robbed of experiencing the beauty that exists in not reaching a goal, or when success is the only thing that matters. The perfect balance exists somewhere in the middle.

Every single time we fail, we are gifted with an opportunity to learn something. Sometimes we learn that we didn’t work as hard as someone else, or that there is knowledge we didn’t possess. Other times we discover we aren’t as good at something as we thought we were or a dream is bigger than what we can accomplish on our own.

So what do we do with failure? This is one of a few true measures of who we are as individuals. Do we simply accept failure and just give up? Do we pretend it didn’t happen and seek the token appreciation trophy? Or do we recognize failure as an opportunity? An opportunity to learn from our mistakes or weakness and work harder, recognize we didn’t know as much as we thought we did and study harder, see that someone deserved to win more than we did and train harder, or recognize we can’t do it on our own and invite others into our story and pursue a dream together?

When we look at our failures as opportunities to learn and grow. The fear of failure is slowly replaced with a sense of excitement. As opposed to thinking, “I failed!” we begin to think, “Okay, what can I learn from this, how can I do things differently next time?”

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." --Thomas Edison

When we choose to learn from our mistakes, choose to learn from our failures, we grow stronger, become smarter, and we evolve into individuals with depth, people with a collection of experiences others can learn from. We become individuals who have something of value to offer the world, something far more valuable than “success at all costs” or a collection of participation trophies.

Don’t be afraid of failures, fear the moments you cease to learn from them.