If you are too afraid of failure, you can’t possibly do what needs to be done to be successful.
I fail far more than you might assume, especially given the fact that I’ve written hundreds of articles, coached thousands of people, and even written a book on forming productive habits, being mindful, and finding contentment despite our struggles.
I fail at all of those things sometimes, and it feels just as dreadful for me as it does for anybody else.
I come down hard on myself, feel guilty, try to avoid thinking about it, and would rather hide my failures from everyone I know.
Yes, failing hurts! And yet, I brush myself off, get back up and try again.
I still fail at getting to the gym sometimes, but I keep trying. And I’m actually pretty good these days at sticking to a regular workout regimen, but I failed and tried again, repeatedly, for years before I became reasonably consistent.
I fail at being loving and compassionate to myself sometimes. But I don’t give up.
I fail at being a patient and present dad and husband, especially when life gets busy. But I continue to try, and sometimes, I’ve been told, I’m the best dad and husband in the world.
I’ve made three attempts at writing the article you’re reading now, and scrapped it entirely the first two times because it didn’t feel right. And yet, I started again, and obviously I’m done now.
When I try over and over again, I succeed in the long run.
And if you try over and over again, you will succeed too.
You may not succeed in the exact way you hoped you would, within the exact timeframe you hoped you would, but you will learn and grow from your experiences and failures, and you will be better off in the end.
More than anything else, here’s what you need to be willing to fail at to succeed in life:
1. You have to be willing to fail at the original plan.
Life is full of screw-ups. You’re supposed to fail sometimes. It’s a required part of the human learning process.
I’ve learned that a more flexible, open mindset is what’s required. When you are rigidly attempting to carry out a plan or reach a dream, and things don’t go exactly as planned, then you feel like a failure and every bit of positive action from that point forward gets derailed. But if you have a more flexible and open mindset, and instead think, “This may not go as planned, but that’s OK because plans can change,” then it’s not a catastrophe when you realize you need to slow down, pivot or switch paths.
There’s no single path in life that you have to stay on to be successful and happy. Success and happiness comes with noticing the progress you’ve made, and understanding that every lesson is a step forward.
2. You have to be willing to fail at feeling completely confident and prepared.
For starters, extreme confidence is often just ignorance in disguise. If you’re feeling super confident and cocky all the time, it’s likely because there’s something important you don’t know.
But the inverse of this equation can also be incredibly problematic – letting your lack of confidence stop you from learning and growing. For instance, you may get so accustomed to the comforts of “I’m not good enough”, “I don’t want to” and “it’s too hard,” that you stop doing things for yourself and instead expect others to do everything for you. And all this really means is you’re not achieving anything at all for yourself. You’ve simply made yourself weak.
The key is to understand that you don’t need to be confident or feel fully prepared in order to make progress in life. You simply have to befriend the possibility of failure and then step forward. Failing is learning, and learning is progress.
You want to know the difference between a master and a beginner? The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried. Behind every great invention, creation or work of art is a hundred failed attempts to make it, but these attempts are simply never shown to us.
Bottom line: Success always begins with one step outside of your comfort zone. When you’re feeling a little unconfident and struggling to make progress, that’s when you’re growing stronger and smarter. The more time you spend there, the faster you learn. It’s better to spend an extremely high quality ten minutes growing, than it is to spend a mediocre hour running in place. You want to practice at the point where you are on the edge of your ability, stretching yourself over and over again, making mistakes, stumbling, learning from those mistakes and stretching yourself even farther. (Read Drive.)
3. You have to be willing to fail at fitting in and pleasing everyone.
The strongest and happiest among us are often the creative, daring ones who never go completely mad, even when everything gets crazy. They aren’t so easily disheartened by the seemingly endless amounts of scrutiny that creative individuals tend to receive because they, like insanity itself, are the ones who feed off of opposition and negative feedback and manage to continue along with a healthy dose of ambition. It’s the willingness to be different that teaches us to use our gifts wisely and own all the critics of the world, with smiles on our faces.
So remember, you don’t need everyone to like you and your creations. You are like an artist with a gift. Not everyone is going to see your beauty and talent. Trust your intuition when it comes to working on what’s meaningful to you. And know that trusting your intuition is equivalent to trusting your true self… and the more you trust your true self, the more control you have of making your biggest goals and wildest dreams come true, even when life’s inevitable changes and adversities get in your way.
4. You have to be willing to fail at being OK all the time.
You can only grow by opening up fully to what you’re feeling.
Take any emotional feeling – love for a significant other, or grief over a lost family member, or fear and pain from a deadly illness. If you hold back on your emotions and you don’t allow yourself to go all the way through them, you can never get to the point of being detached from them. But by throwing yourself into these emotions, by allowing yourself to fully embrace them to the point where you’re effectively in over your head, you leave no emotion abandoned or question lingering in your mind.
You know what love is. You know what grief is. You know what fear is. And only when you know these things can you say, “I’m OK again, and ready to move forward with my life.” (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Adversity” and “Self-Love” chapters of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
5. You have to be willing to fail at doing it all by yourself.
Just because you don’t need to please everyone, doesn’t mean you have to go it alone all the time either. There is a middle ground, and it’s OK to ask for help when you need it.
One of the biggest barriers to success and happiness is the significance we often place on the idea of “doing everything ourselves.” Somehow as a society we have come to associate success with not needing any help from anyone. Many of us are willing to offer a helping hand, but we’re hesitant to reach out for help when we truly need it. Don’t do this to yourself.
For the last several years I’ve asked for help whenever I needed it, and doing so has made all the difference. When I’m desperately struggling with something, I know I can either quit or I can figure out a smarter way. But it’s not always easy to figure out a smarter way, so I reach out to Angel, close friends and family, mentors, peers who I respect, and I ask them for help. They might not have all the answers either, but sometimes they do, and even when they don’t they still give me some necessary perspective. Whatever happens, my family, friends, mentors and peers – my tribe members – never fail me.
What opportunities have you missed out on simply because you were scared of failure? Do you have any other thoughts about this post? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below and share something with us.
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Photo by: Sweet Caroline