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Failure: The Ultimate Key to Success

Do you remember the last time you did something bold? Something Daring? Something that challenged you? You know it was bold and daring because the very thought of it made your palms sweat and your heart pound. More importantly, you knew it was bold and daring because there was a chance you could fail. Maybe even a BIG chance that you could fail BIG TIME. After doing something bold there is a tendency to want to retreat and hide, dreading to know if the bold move will pay off. Or not.


Part of the fear in living boldly comes from our previous failures. We remember the shame and embarrassment we felt and we cannot imagine having to experience those feelings again. Especially to willingly invite those painful emotions back in our life. Failure memories are strong because they are paired to such painful emotions. I mean, I still remember the time in middle school when I made it to the school-wide spelling bee, only to choke on the first word and be disqualified. I spelled the wrong word. Yup. The entirely WRONG word. I heard the word, I repeated the word, then I spelled the WRONG word. To this day, years later, I remember the word I was supposed to spell: quackery. That word reverberated in my brain for days later as I felt the extent of my shame, and embarrassment for even trying.


In high school, I mustered up the courage to ask my unrequited love to the girls choice dance. He said no. I was mortified and hid in my room the night of the dance, miserable and wishing I’d never asked at all. I vowed to never put myself through that shame and rejection again.

As an adult, my immediate supervisor encouraged me to apply for a promotion I wanted but for which I was unqualified. I tentatively put in an application, predicting a humiliating interview to come. However, I was not even asked to interview. I felt ashamed. I believed I should not have asked for what I did not deserve. I should have known my place. I’ve wished I could go back in time and withdraw my application. As if others knowing I even wanted or thought I was capable of the position was wrong of me.


Even putting these few examples of the many failures I’ve experienced in life brings me a bit of discomfort. The situations I’ve shared, I’m probably the only one that remembers any of them. Yet here I am, drudging them up and putting them out for the public to scrutinize.


It’s so much easier to play it safe in life. It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone and never put yourself out there. You can wait for successes to be bestowed upon you with little effort or risk of potential failure on your part, but how often does that really happen?


As I’ve begun to think of what it means to live boldly, I realized each of these fails, was actually a triumph on its own. Each time I put myself out there and faced the brutality of failure, I increased my ability to overcome failure. Overcoming failure means moving forward despite the failure.


Despite all my failings (and believe me, there are far more than three) perhaps I could classify myself as a success. That is, if you define success as a contributing member of society: someone who gets up each day and provides for my family, has attained some educational goals along the way, and tries my best to improve the lives and experiences of others, and do this time and again. Sure, then I am a success. I’m not wealthy or incredibly intelligent. I’m not the most creative person nor did I invent something life changing. But I’m out here doing things. I’m a thing doer. A tryer and sometimes succeed-er (okay, so maybe I just invented a new word). You could argue I have failed my way to being a succeed-er.


Thinking about it, perhaps I even failed my way to success. But wait- you are probably thinking- you aren't a “success” because you failed, it’s the fact that you succeeded and achieved that has led to your success! And you’d be right. Except, through every one of those small successes through the years, I had just as much chance at failure as the times I did try and I did fail. You always have a chance to fail. All it takes to really fail anything, is to give up, stop trying, not try at all, or call it quits before you know the end result. That’s failing. Every time we are faced with a failure, it just means we haven’t succeeded yet. That said, let’s say we adjust our original goals after failing and move towards something else. That’s not failing either. That’s just learning from the failures to move closer to future success.


I didn’t ever participate in a spelling bee again. I never asked another boy out again. Being unwilling to try when I had the ability to do so is my true failure. However, I still went for promotions at work and with more “fails” under my belt I was eventually promoted to a position I enjoy. I am now more careful about what I apply for but my only requirement is whether I would enjoy the position rather than whether I am really qualified on paper. Meanwhile, I have seen others go for and get positions they wouldn’t or don’t really enjoy, but accept because it fits their definition of the next step to success. If you achieve something that doesn’t make you happier, is that really success anyway?

If there is a goal you’ve been avoiding achieving, because the risk of failure is high and the reward of success seems unattainable, I encourage you to go for it. If there are things you are working towards in an effort to feel successful, but that won’t bring you happiness, I encourage you to redirect your focus. Failure is always possible. Failure is often painful. But embracing potential failure is the only way to achieve success. So go forth and Fail Forward.


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