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Embracing Failure for Personal Growth

Updated: Apr 9


No one wants to fail. Why would anyone want to? It just does not make sense! Central to the human experience is the desire to expand. The very act of living means that we are constantly changing. Yes, constantly changing. Look at the oneness in the contrast. Why would we seek to change for the worse? At our core, we desire to succeed, not to fail. However, here is what I have learnt about failure over the years:

  • You do not have to fail in order to succeed

  • Success can be amplified by failure

  • For the persistent mind, greater strength is gained after failure

  • The outcome of failure is perspective-dependent


Let's dive into these points using three of my encounters with failure.


Why you don't have to fail in order to succeed:

First, let me explain why you don't have to fail in order to succeed.

During my interaction with successful people, a common sentiment is that countless failures were experienced before their apparent "overnight success". Most times, ultimate success resulted from learning through a series of failures. What is sometimes showcased as, or seen as effortless success actually took great effort, discipline, commitment and most importantly, the persistence to continue going after many failed attempts.


Though it may be true that most successful people experienced failure before ultimate success, failure is not necessary for success - at least not in all situations. This is because especially in this day and age, most people have access to a web of information, and it is literally at our fingertips. Relevant to what we want, we can learn what to do and what not to do. We can also learn via direct observation of people and our environment. We can read books and engage with people who provide specific knowledge on topics of interest. For reasons including those stated here, you do not have to fail in order to succeed.


How success is amplified by failure:

I want to ensure that I am not biased in my view. Hence, I have made it clear that you don't have to fail in order to succeed. Now, I discuss how failure has amplified my success. I am twenty seven years of age and I have failed many times.


During the ninth grade in high school, I got zero percent on a final math exam. I had been doing good at math up to that point. However, when I entered grade nine, I started to experience a gap in my ability to connect the concepts which were being taught. I had a hard time understanding my new teacher. I had also fallen prey to the negative tone surrounding math in my class. Though I was doing fine up to that point, I developed a fear of math in grade nine.


I did not fail the exam. Or, at least, I don't think that I would have gotten a zero if I had turned in the paper on time and it was assessed. I was sad when it happened, but I did not dwell on the failure. It was not until I finished university that I realized that that same fear of math which I experienced during high school had followed me to and through university. I unknowingly cycled with fear for years. The thing is that I always managed to get past it. When it counted most, I passed my math exam. In fact, I think that math exam was the only failure that I had in high school. Now, at age 27, I love numbers and I love to solve problems. When I need to, I learn and understand math without much explanation.


In retrospect, I would not be as courageous as I am now if I didn't fail and had to bounce back from failure then. Because I endured failure, I don't fear failure anymore. Had I gotten it right from the start, I would have probably developed a know-it-all mindset and stopped myself from realizing a lot more than math that I thought I knew but did not really know. I probably would have passed all my exams without acknowledging the fear, and now, during adulthood, when I actually use math a lot, I would be afraid of using the available tools to simplify my life - I would probably not be as comfortable as I am with numbers.



Recovery from failure enhances strength:

In university, I failed two courses during my second year and one during my final year. I re-did the first two courses during the relevant summer. However, I waited an additional year to redo the final-year course. At that moment, I felt disappointed. But, having experienced failure before, I did not go crazy over this. I embraced the experience and adjusted as necessary. The amazing thing is that up to that point, that year of waiting was the most positively transformative year of my life. I moved away from my family and started living on my own. I changed my habits. I exercised religiously, had a mostly plant-based diet, tried some short-term jobs and started reading for personal development. I took time for introspection and made my health top priority. I met new people and developed some new skills. By the end of the year, I had totally transformed myself - all while I did not have an expected finish with my degree.


If I had finished that degree on time and started a job in my field, I would not have experienced such a transformation. That break between intensive studying and a demanding job allowed me to slow down, get to know myself better, instill supportive habits and set the pace for my future. Again, an apparent delay led to growth. By the end of that year (and actually before I did the final exam), I got a job in my field. I entered the corporate world of work with an expanded worldview. This expanded worldview added great value to my work life. This happened through failure.


The outcome of failure is perspective-dependent:

I failed at my corporate job. I was working in a capacity which made me responsible for the monitoring of a system. During an assessment, the company received a score which made it necessary for the assessment to be redone. To be fair, unlike the previous situations, this was not a personal failure. I was monitoring an integrated system. The system spanned every area of the company. The element which contributed most to the failure was not under my full control. Therefore, I was not and could not have been solely responsible in this situation. But, we had failed. I felt like I had failed. In my head: if I knew that there was a problem, I would have gotten it rectified when it would have counted and we would have passed the assessment. For some time, I blamed myself for what happened.


Now I see it differently but back then I perceived this as a major failure. It felt worse than personal failure. But, similar to the previous situations, this failure was a great learning experience for me. Moving forward, I learned and applied. I made a greater effort to be proactive. I started to seek out hidden problems and tried to fix them continuously. I improved at my role and moved on to assist the company in other areas.


Failure made me stronger. If I did not experience that failure, I would not have become more attuned to identifying hidden problems in a system. I would not have developed my ability to solve problems before they actually become a problem. In addition, if the company had not experienced that failure, it would probably experience a greater failure in the future. In adjusting to failure, I imagine that each relevant person learnt something valuable - something that would act as prevention from future failures. This experience has made me a better problem-solver, expanded my perspective, and enhanced my trust in my ability to figure things out. Again, if I had gotten it right at first attempt (or thought I had gotten it right), I would not have become as skilled as I am with dealing with systems.


Conclusion:

The failures (some of many more!) felt major at the time but they weren't really major. They spanned an insignificant portion of my experience in the sense that when I look back, there were many more good times than bad. Dwelling on the failures would have just taken up unnecessary mental space and lead to more failures. All in all, failures are not roadblocks. You can overcome failure. It is better to fail than to not try at all because when you try, you give yourself an opportunity to succeed. If you don't try, you automatically fail (if you really wanted to do the thing that you didn't try to do).


Failures can be great eye-openers as without them you could go on believing that all is well when all isn't well, until one day, in the most unexpected way, you realize that you had built your house upon the sand, and your energy could have been used more efficiently if you had dared to try, and keep trying amidst failure.


I still fail. I don't always get things right on the first attempt. But, now I embrace the process more. I don't dwell on mishaps for so long that they affect my inner peace. My failures, though seemingly major at the time, had vital life lessons embedded within them. I don't even perceive them as failures anymore. They were simply strength-building exercises which prepared me for the courageous actions which I am taking now and will take in future. Most importantly, now I am a bit more aware about what to do and what not to do in order to avoid failure (or apparent failure), and I get to share my insights with the world so that whomever might benefit, can.


Even if you never experience failure on your journey to success (however you define success), success is not achieved without effort. The "overnight success" thing is a myth. Success is as predictable as failure. It starts with a mindset, then continues with a series of aligned actions. Whether you perceive yourself as starting from scratch or not, success requires effort - and far greater effort when you have been conditioned to fail (or to fear failure). You have to do what is required to get what you want; whether the process feels easy or not. You might fail along the way but guess what? Failures are insignificant when compared to the reservoir of strength which you build while overcoming them.


Don't yield to misunderstanding. Many successful people do not discuss their failures because in the process of becoming successful, it is necessary for one to shift the focus from the possibility of failure to the possibility of success - and keep the focus there. This is because when you focus on failure, you get failure. Successful people have the tremendous capability to see success in failure. Hence, they may not even recognize failure. They see failure as a necessary part of the process. You likely will not hear them excessively talk about failure, so you could misunderstand. But, they went through it all - the failures, delays, setbacks, all of it.


Failures do not define you. You can overcome anything. If you are doing something for the first time, you probably won't get it right at the beginning. However, do not deprive yourself of your inherent desire to expand because you fear that you might fail. You see, when something is new to you, it is unfamiliar to your mind and body. It requires mental and physical adjustment. But, if you persist through all the phases, you stand a great chance of eventually getting it right. Also, don't settle for what you don't want because you are scared of stepping into the unknown. Give yourself a shot at experiencing life in the way that you truly desire.


You have what it takes and I believe in you!









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