Failure Isn’t What You Think It Is
Our culture prides itself on its heavy focus on success and its avoidance of discussing failure. Everywhere we turn, we are met head-on by the unyielding drive for perfection. When is the last time that you saw anyone celebrate failure? However, failure is worth celebrating. It means you are alive and that you have tried. That’s worthy of celebration!
What’s more, maybe it’s time to look a little deeper, beyond the sound bites of success, and examine more closely the transformational power of not succeeding. Failure is oftentimes a step toward success. True success rarely happens without failure.
Many of the world’s most outstanding achievements came only after repeated failures. Take, for example, Thomas Edison. He is purported to have made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts before finally inventing the light bulb! 1,000 failures!!! But Edison didn’t view those 1,000 attempts as failures, rather as 1,000 small steps towards his invention.
In other words, as you’re chasing your dreams, you’re actually chasing failures. Anyone who has achieved success in their life has failed their way, all the way to the top.
What, then, distinguishes those who permit failure to crush their spirit from those who use failure to motivate them?
Those who harness failure to fuel their desire to try again know the benefits, and grasp the transformational power of failure, whereas those who are crushed by failure don’t.
The Secret Benefits of Failure
J. K. Rowling submitted her first “Harry Potter” book to 12 publishing houses and they all rejected her work (talk about publishing houses that failed), but she was undaunted and persevered. One year later, she found a publisher. J. K. Rowling didn’t quit; she learned and lived resilience.
If there is one thing that separates therapists who succeed from those who don’t, it is the intestinal fortitude and fearless capacity to persevere, irrespective of the outcome. Leveraging failure to your advantage requires mental strength, and the experience of failure is critical in building this.
Bouncing back after failure builds strength and makes you more resilient to future failures. Failures help you to develop the ability to bounce back quickly and explore novel solutions to make your next attempt successful. Gradually, you will create an inner resolve, tenacity, and courageous determination to fail no more.
Many successful people claim that their largest failures became their most powerful inspirations. Their determination not to fail energized them to begin again with even greater self-motivation to succeed.
“When life knocks you down, try and land on your back, because if you can look up, you can get up” – Les Brown
Albert Einstein once said – “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Failure requires you to rethink your approach and attempt something new.
Oftentimes, when therapists are successful, they just keep on doing the same thing. However, when they fail, by necessity they are forced to adapt and change.
Success breeding repetition isn’t limited to humans, but is a fundamental feature found in other mammals. Researchers found that, when monkeys were reinforced for looking in the correct direction, the action was more likely to be repeated. And when their response was incorrect, it was less likely to be repeated.
When a lab rat ceases to be rewarded for pressing a lever that previously yielded food pellets, it becomes upset. As its frantic efforts fail, the rat resorts to all kinds of strange or novel reactions, anything from grooming itself to biting the lever or jumping into the air. The world has changed, and what previously worked is no longer a viable option.
The combination of emotionalism with originality is fairly close to what many people define as artistic creativity. It isn’t that artists are necessarily frustrated people, but they do tend to be unsatisfied with their previous accomplishments and are looking to try to do something better or something new; the status quo needs to be improved upon.
If you are determined to realize your full potential as a therapist, achieve your personal best, or do what appears to be the impossible, you can’t be afraid of failure. To achieve any goal, dream, or desire, requires tacit acceptance that failures will occur along the way. Embracing the notion of failure is both vital and necessary to any future success.
Perhaps you are being successful at what you are aiming to do. But if there is no risk of failure, you may not be not aiming high enough. This doesn’t mean you should aim at the impossible, or even the highly improbable. But it does mean that you should be aiming at goals that are lofty enough, that will push you to the excellence of which you are capable. Failures are the barometer that you are aiming correctly.
Failure is the Price We Pay to be Truly Alive
In our “viral video” culture, we view the split-second successes of people doing all sorts of amazing things. We begin to accept the false impression that they were born with all that talent. While many people are endowed with certain gifts or tendencies, often we don’t realize that the one moment of greatness was the culmination of hours, days, or years of preparation. And that preparation included countless attempts and failures.
Accepting our failures, allowing them to be without pushing them away, and letting ourselves experience what they bring up for us, can facilitate a powerful journey into our inner world and provide significant opportunities for growth. As we explore and express the more challenging or difficult emotions around failure, there is much to learn.
In her 2008 Harvard Commencement Address, J. K. Rowling put it this way: “It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default. I wish you all the benefits of failure.”