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What you need to learn about failure

Life is brutal. It’s littered with all these bad days, the ones where you want curl up in a ball and cry under the blankets. Those are the days where you fail that crucial test, where that project or event you were planning fell apart, where you screwed up when everyone was counting on you. Nobody likes to fail. It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. You feel like banging your head on a wall or screaming out loud in frustration. Failure sucks, and it’s just what we need.

There’s a good reason that things don’t work out

Life is random, chaotic, and painfully unpredictable, and sometimes things just don’t work out. You’re going to screw up that math test, that basketball tryout, or that presentation. It happens to everyone, but it’s not just luck.

If it was luck, why is it that some people always ace that test? Why do some people always make it on the basketball team? Why do some people always seem to capture their audience during presentations? If it was luck and random chance, are all these people just lucky?

That’s absurd. Ask yourself, for all those big moments, the important speeches, and killer tests, was luck the only factor? When you ace a test, you never think “I was just lucky”. You aced that test because you studied hard for it. When you make it onto a team, it means that you put in hours of sweat into it. It’s not because “the coach likes me”. Luck is never the only reason for success. Bad luck is never the only reason for failure.

When we think of failure as a result of luck, we ignore the chance to reflect on the real causes of our failure. Yet failure is only valuable if a lesson is learned. Saying you failed because of bad luck is shifting all of your responsibility onto some imaginary dice-rolling angel.

We mess up for a reason. Find out why.

Failure is part of the journey

I’ve always wondered whether you could go through life without messing up. There have to be some people that never failed before right?

As it turns out, even the greatest and most successful people in the world have failed before.

Steve Jobs was fired from Apple, then he came back and took Apple from the verge of bankruptcy to the multi-billion dollar company it is today.

Michael Jordan has famously missed over 9000 shots, lost 300 games, and missed the game-winning shot 26 times. He has gone down as the greatest basketball player of all time.

Oprah Winfrey was fired from her job as a television anchor. Now she’s famous around the world for her talk show, and is worth a few billion according to Forbes.

There’s a lesson behind all of this. These people are the ones that have screwed up badly. Their failures were scarring and traumatizing. Yet, here’s the thing; they didn’t let those failures hold them back. Though they had failed before, they did not let that fear stop them from going on and doing bigger and better things. They all wanted something, and they knew that failure was just a step in the journey.

Fail forward.

Don’t be afraid to fail

Writing this post has taken me hours. Right now, I’m scared that there’s going to be a stupid grammar mistake I missed. I’m worrying that no one is going to like it. I am terrified that people are going to laugh, criticize and talk behind my back. It’s a sick feeling that eats away at my mind. Failure is scary as hell.

But here’s the thing. If I don’t publish this post, nobody is going to be laughing at me, but nobody is going to be nodding their head and agreeing. If I don’t publish this, nobody is going to point out the stupid grammar mistake, and that mistake is going to pop up over and over again the next time I write.

As students, it’s a time for us to grow, explore, and find our passions. Being scared of failure is incredibly limiting. It sabotages your efforts and acts against your own interests.

Need one more example? Let’s look at uber-talented photographers Louis Li and Ryan Ng. They’re two high school students with a passion for photography, and they currently run the photography blog Teenagers of Markham.

At Project 5K’s recent photography workshop, Louis & Ryan made the point of saying that they knew that not all of their shots would be perfect. They knew that not everyone would like their photography. But the quote that stuck with me the most was this:

“It’s ok to take some bad pictures. If every shot you took was perfect, you should just stop taking pictures. You wouldn’t be getting any better, you wouldn’t be developing as an artist, there wouldn’t be a point.”

Every failed picture is a lesson for Louis and Ryan, and they know that it’s just part of the journey. They don’t let the thought of failed pictures stop them from grabbing their camera bags and hitting the streets. Guess what? Their pictures just keep getting better and better.

So don’t be afraid to go out there and screw up. Faceplant and run into a wall. Learn your lesson, get up, and keep on going. From what I’ve learned, it’s the fastest way to move forward.


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