A Few Words On Failure

14 Aug

I’m pleasantly surprised by my sea-change reaction to failure over this last year. If you had asked me 15 months ago my thoughts on failure, I probably would have waxed poetic about our society’s inability to accept failure, but deep inside, I was terrified of it. I lived my life in fear of failure. Looking back, I made very few major decisions in my life that weren’t based on a gut-wrenching fear of failure:

  • Don’t go too far for college because you’ve never been that far from home and you don’t know if you can cope. 
  • Don’t go to an expensive private university because you have no idea what you want to do with your life and you don’t want to waste all your parent’s retirement money. 
  • Don’t take the job on a tropical island because you have no idea if you can handle living on a house boat. 
  • Don’t start a small business because you have no idea what to do, or if you can do it, or if you will go bankrupt and loose the house. 

Even today, I’m still coming to terms with my fear of failure, but I’m feeling a bit less intimidated by it. I’m actually embracing it more, accepting it as a badge of honor even. Take for example this question recently posed to me by a close friend: If you come back to your old job, how will you respond to people’s judgement that you failed at your endeavor and are coming back defeated? (OK, so it wasn’t remotely asked like that; my memory has morphed the question into this mean-sounding snipe, but in fact it was a kind and honest question worded much more tactfully than I can remember).

And to my surprise, I never even thought of my past year as a failure. In fact, I think of it as a resounding success. I left the safety of a paycheck for the uncertainty known by many small business owners. I learned an incredible amount about the food industry and I learned about my unhealthy relationship with sweets. I taught myself how to knit and discovered this amazing passion I have for it- something I’ve never felt about any other activity in my life. All my life I’ve thought in the back of my head that there’s something wrong with me because I don’t have a passion in my life- and I learned this year that I do have a passion. All I needed to do was be willing to fail at everything I tried until I found it!

I’ve also learned that failure is in the eye of the beholder. (Would if that were a famous quote). How do we define our failures? By what we don’t succeed, what we don’t reach? Or by what we do succeed, by what we learn about ourselves and our community, and how we grow towards a whole person. Not by how we think others will judge and condemn us, but by how we feel about ourselves. Proud of our risk-taking spirit, proud of our circle of friends who are there to support us, and proud of the lessons we learn.

This last year has taught me how to have a healthier relationship with fear and failure. I’m not claiming to have conquered my fear of failure- in fact, I don’t think it needs to be eliminated. I’m still not willing to loose the house to start my own yarn store. But I know now there are other ways to follow my passion, embrace my fear of failure, and still have a place to call home. And I can thank this last-year’s failures for that!

 

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2 Responses to “A Few Words On Failure”

  1. marcus August 14, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

    One of my favorite quotes on failure:

    A thinker sees his own actions as experiments and questions–as attempts to find out something. Success and failure are for him answers above all. — Friedrich Nietzsche

  2. Sam August 15, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    Yep. Pretty sure I hadn’t worded it that way, but glad the reinterpretation of it led you to some thoughtful insights.

    Hmmm… perhaps I shall have to get you a Sam decoder ring.

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