You can probably remember those days when you were in school and the teacher handed you your test. The big red letter was circled at the top, to make sure that you didn’t miss it, to let you know how well, or how poorly, you had done. All throughout the test were red marks telling you where you had made a mistake.
It’s no wonder that most of us spend a great deal of our time thinking about the mistakes we make in life. The time that we spent in school, and probably most of the time growing up, and how our parents treated us, taught us to focus on what we had done wrong. And not only did we focus on the mistakes we had made, we were repeatedly told to stop making them.
Throughout our lives we have come to hate being wrong. We don’t enjoy the embarrassment and negative attention that we get from blowing it, so we try to avoid it at all costs. We have been well schooled, and we’re very good at, fearing failure. The problem is that it is the fear of failure that causes us to fail in the first place, because we either don’t act on our dreams or we quit before we reach them.
I’ve often looked at that fact that many highly successful people have really blown it at one time in their lives. Some of them have gone through complete financial ruin and bankruptcy, but have somehow come through the difficulties and made it work. I’ve asked myself the question: What is it about going through such complete disasters that seems to actually help someone achieve success? And a follow on question would be: Do I have to fail in order to succeed?
As far as the first question goes, there are things we learn through failure that we either can’t, or won’t learn any other way. The best way to learn compassion and humility is to know what it’s like to be on the bottom, which will make us a lot easier to live with when we reach the top. And if you’ve been through hard times it’s easier to be truly thankful and to not take success for granted.
Of course the greatest advantage is that overcoming failure creates a certain conviction in us that difficulties can be conquered. And as Mark Twain said, “Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain.” So overcoming failure will help us completely eliminate our fear of it.
When we have come through extremely trying circumstances and seen that failure really isn’t fatal, we lose some of the fear that has been drilled into us all our lives. We begin to recognize that failing only hurts us if we allow the pain and embarrassment to keep us from trying again. As long as we are still willing to take the risks, learn from our mistakes, and continue working toward our goals, we realize that our mistakes not only can’t stop us, they may actually help us.
By learning from our trials and errors we figure out the best way for us to accomplish what we want. We see what doesn’t work, and by modifying or eliminating those behaviors and actions and focusing on what does work, we start moving rapidly toward the fulfillment of our desires.
As to the second question, even though I think that there are benefits, and that many people do seem to go through hardships, we do need to be careful that we don’t create the circumstances through our own beliefs. If we believe that we need to have a really good story, one in which we survived all the bad stuff that life could throw at us but we persevered and made it in spite of the struggles, we may inadvertently manufacture failure.
The truth is that we don’t have to rise like a phoenix from the ashes and we can begin to build a life of success from wherever we are. And while such stories are really dramatic, and many of the people who went through them even treasure the hardships they endured, we still need to believe that success isn’t about having a good story. What success is about is having the faith that we can succeed and then applying the principles of success to our lives on a consistent basis.
There are a few things that we can do to help us overcome our fear of failure and to increase the rate of our success. The first one is to realize that success in life is not about getting a perfect score on a test. As Earl Nightingale put it, “Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal.” The “progressive realization” is created by an attitude that says, “I won’t quit until I have achieved my goal. I know that I will fail, but I am determined to learn from my mistakes, adjust my actions, and continue on in faith that I must eventually succeed.”
The other thing that we can do is to face the fear head on. Spend some time imagining the worst outcome, and put yourself in that place. See yourself at the end of your rope, when everything has gone the exact opposite of what you had intended, and ask yourself: How does this feel? What does this really mean to me? Am I still alive? Will the sun still rise in the morning? What will have really changed?
When we shine the light of truth on our fears we find out that they are really based on lies and half-truths. We believe that failing will ruin us, but the truth is that we will most likely still be alive and still have another chance to change things. We will see that even as bad as it could possibly be, there will still be hope, and hope is a very powerful thing.
When we conquer our fears we become invincible. And once we silence those internal voices, the ones that sound a lot like our parents and first-grade teacher who told us we would never amount to much, we will find the strength and courage to persevere in the pursuit of our goals. And we will find that “failing” is the only way to succeed.