Four Lessons From Failure
There’s something to be said for failure — from what it does for us to what it teaches us. Lessons from failure are not new; for as long as people have been around, all of us have had to grapple with, work to understand, and process our own shortcomings.
But what exactly are we learning when we fail? And what should we take away from each failure in order to ultimately experience more success? The following are four key lessons that failure can teach you — about life, about your career, about your relationships, and more.
Lessons from failure
1. Experiencing what we dislike shows us what we like
What is failure? Many of us think of it as being unable to achieve something we want to accomplish. But there’s more to it than that. In fact, another component of failure often gets entirely overlooked, and that’s the emotional experience of failing. To fail can be to feel pain, rejection, and a sense of dislike for not getting what you wanted.
But that sense of dislike is important! Why? Because all of us like and dislike different things, and knowing what you dislike can help you get clarity about what you do like. For instance, a high-ranking executive might consider making less than six figures a year a “failure,” because being financially sound is a major priority for them. But someone else might find that the stress and effort involved in making that kind of salary isn’t worth it.
In this way, “failing” to reach six figures is good either way — if failing to make that much upsets you, you learn something about yourself, and if it doesn’t make you unhappy at all, then you also learn something valuable.
2. Failure helps us let go of our ego
Our ego, or what makes us “us,” is a very powerful thing. In many ways, it acts as a protection mechanism to keep us away from what we determine to be a risk. In some situations this is good, because it protects us from embarrassing ourselves or entering undesirable situations. But at other times our ego keeps us from embracing new opportunities. Letting go of our own ego through failure allows us to experience something we might not otherwise have engaged in had we chosen to stay safe in our own bubble.
This is true for entering a new career field, starting or ending a relationship, traveling new places and more. Chances are high that any new thing you embark upon will be met with some preliminary failure, but allowing yourself to accept that failure and move through it will help you unlock new and wonderful moments — moments worth failing for.
3. Failure helps us build emotional resilience
Have you ever met someone who, at the first sign of something hard, gave up? They’re difficult to deal with, aren’t they? Unfortunately, it’s a common problem that people who are used to succeeding often have. The moment a wrench gets thrown into their plan, they call it quits, because everything else in their lives has come easily so far.
Obviously, that’s not a great precedent to model. So how do you avoid it? Simple: fail a lot. Use setbacks as tools to build emotional resilience. Having emotional resilience means that every time you fail, you’re able to more quickly lift yourself back up, because you’ve got the emotional “toolbox” to get yourself out of a tough jam.
People who succeed at everything have pretty sparse emotional toolboxes. You want a toolbox full of tools, though, because life hands all of us failure at some point or another, and it’s going to serve you far better to find a way to cope with it rather than break down and walk away.
4. Failure shows us that there are alternatives
Here’s a hard fact of adult life: you can’t have everything you want, just the way you want it. If things worked that way, we’d all be millionaires living in mansions by the sea. But here’s the thing — failing at something shows us that while we might not be able to succeed at a certain thing, we can find a way to be tremendously happy with an alternative outcome.
For instance, some people want more than anything to be a parent, but can’t have children. While that sounds like a major roadblock, the inability to have kids of your own can show you new ways to experience the joys of children in your life: by adopting, by taking an active role in your niece or nephew’s childhood, by nannying, by becoming a godparent, or by becoming an educator in a preschool or elementary setting.
Think of failure as the great “grey area.” It shows us that not everything is as black and white as it seems, and that you can still have the essence of something you love, even if it wasn’t in the way you first expected to receive it.
Fail lots, and fail often
If there’s anything we’d like you to take away from this blog, it’s that you can fail often and still be okay. Take the guard rails off and walk into something that you want but think you won’t succeed at, if only just to get the negative emotions that come with failure out of the way. By doing so, you’ll be learning every single one of the lessons above, and you’ll have a far better outlook on life as a result.