The F word we dread and spend our whole lives trying to avoid.
We're told from a young age that failure is the opposite of success, so we navigate through life eliminating all possibility of failure and being afraid of what might happen if we don't achieve what we set out to do.
We don't ask people out on dates because we're afraid of rejection. We don't start that business we've always dreamed of because we're scared it might not be successful. We don't go after the promotion we want because we don't want the risk of being told no.
If you think about it, there's a huge stigma attached to failure and quite simply, we don't like to admit that we've failed and we don't like the feeling that comes from not reaching our goals.
But what I've realised over the last few years is that failure actually isn't a bad thing. Not at all. If anything, failure is success in disguise and some of the major turning points and lessons in my life have been as a result of failure.
Many of my achievements and successes lately have arisen because of my failures. I pitch projects and ideas all the time, and not all of them are successful. It used to really get me down, but what I've realised is that it just sets off a chain of events.
Brands that rejected me years ago are coming back to me now with bigger and better ideas than what I initially pitched. Last year when we went to Bali, that was actually my second choice destination. I failed to make my first destination idea come to life, so Bali was our backup but in the end, the trip was incredible. I landed a major partnership with an airline and it was one of my favourite trips we've ever done, so it all worked out in the end.
We waste so much of our energy making decisions to try and avoid failure, but what if we flip the script and divert that energy into going after what we want instead, without that fear hanging over our heads? Here's why I think failure is success in disguise and how letting go of that fear can help you to achieve amazing things.
Why are we so scared of failure?
I think it's important to first think about why you're so scared of failure. Is it because you fear embarrassment and judgment from others? Is it because it'll affect your self-confidence and if you fail, you won't feel like you're good enough?
For me, I don't care a lot about what people think in terms of how I might be judged if I don't succeed, but my standards for myself are very high, and if I don't achieve what I set out to do, it does impact my confidence and my momentum. However, I also recognise that if I don't go after what I want and risk failing, I won't continue to grow and learn so that's always my motivation to keep on going after new things, despite failure being a potential outcome.
One thing I always say to myself when the fear of failure pops into my head is, "Yes, but what's the worst that can happen?" We often feel that failure is this huge, immense beast that's impossible to come back from....but most of the time, it's really not. Most of the time, all that happens is that it affects our ego and our confidence, but if going after what you want means you might achieve your goals, then I think it's a risk worth taking.
If you're not going after what you want out of fear of judgement from others, ask yourself these 2 things - "What could you possibly achieve if you didn't have this fear in the back of your mind, and why are you willing to give up on potential success because you're scared of what others will think?"
And anyway, so what if you do fail? If that happens, you just have to learn from your mistakes, dust yourself off and start again. And that brings me to my next point...
Failure is necessary in order to grow
Without failure in some shape or form, we don't learn important life lessons. You know the phrase "you learn from your mistakes"? Well, that's just another way of saying "you learn from your failures".
I'd even go as far as saying that you learn more from failure than you do from success, and even if you don't see it at the time, failure teaches you SO many valuable lessons.
Failure forces us to improve, to adapt, to find new solutions and think outside the box. It teaches us what works, what doesn't work, what we're good at and what we're not good at. It also teaches us perseverance and patience and all of the most successful people in the world have experienced failure in some shape or form.
It took James Dyson over 5,000 attempts to create a successful and fully working vacuum cleaner...5,000! Imagine if he'd have given up at try #50. He learned from every single failure, applied his learnings to his next model, persisted, and eventually ended up with one of the biggest household brands in the world.
That didn't happen by chance. It happened because he failed, quite literally thousands of time, and eventually things all clicked into place and his hard work paid off. Success isn't something that happens overnight - it's something that requires time, work and dedication and failure is just a necessary part of that.
Some of your biggest lessons in life will come from your failures and it's important to remember that especially if things aren't going your way. You need failure in order to grow, so rather than ignoring your failures, embrace them, open your eyes and see what you can learn and apply in the future.
Failure opens up new doors to opportunity
Let's say you're driving down the road and you suddenly come to a roadblock. There's no way that you can continue driving, and your only option is to turn around and find another route. In that situation, would you sit in the car and beat yourself up about leading yourself to a dead end and give up completely, OR, would you turn back and somehow find another way?
I'm sure it would be the latter and after driving around and searching for a while, you'll inevitably end up on a new road that will either delay your arrival to your destination, or, it'll take you to a whole new destination altogether.
You can apply this same logic to failure, and ultimately when we fail at one thing, all that happens is we open up the door to something else. When I was applying for University, I had my heart and soul set on King's College in London. The course was incredible and I dreamed of living in London, so when I missed out on the entry requirements by 1 grade, you can imagine I was absolutely devastated. I considered that to be a huge failure and I was so ashamed to tell my parents and everyone else that I had to go to Sheffield, my second choice University.
However, when I look back, I realise that by failing and not getting into King's, I actually opened myself up to a whole new path which has guided me to where I am today. If I had got into that University, I wouldn't have met Matt or my best friends, I wouldn't have studied in Paris, I probably wouldn't have started this blog and I definitely wouldn't be living in Vancouver doing what I'm doing now.
So, the next time things don't go the way you planned, remember this roadblock analogy. Failure isn't final - it just forces you to divert down a different path. And you never know, that final destination may just be 10 times better than the one you initially had in mind.
"Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently."
Failing makes us less afraid of failing
Have you ever been so afraid of failing that you simply didn't go after what you wanted at all? I'm sure we've all experienced this at some point in our lives because honestly, failure is quite a scary prospect. However, one thing that failure has taught me is that the prospect of failure is much scarier than the reality. And also, the prospect of not going after what you want because of an invisible fear is even scarier!
When things don't work out the way we planned, all that happens is we're forced to figure out an alternative route or go back to the drawing board. Of course, some failures have a greater impact than others, but at the end of the day we always end up working it out, learning lessons and moving forward.
I've found that the more I put myself out there and risk failure, the less afraid I am of failing. That's because A) a lot of the time I actually end up succeeding and B) because my past failures have taught me that I'm equipped to deal with whatever comes my way, and actually, failure really isn't the end of the world... it's just a little diversion.
Tips for overcoming fear of failure
Getting over that fear of failure isn't an instant process, but if this is something you struggle with, here are a few exercises you can do and things to keep in mind to help you overcome the obstacles that are standing in your way.
- Shift your perspective. Instead of telling yourself, "But what if I fail?", ask yourself, "But what if I succeed and get everything I want?" Rather than seeing failure as a setback, consider it as a necessity and something you must endure in order to be successful. If your goal is something you really want, you have to accept that failure will be a part of that, in some shape or form, but in the end it'll all be worth it if it means you reach your goal.
- Analyse your past failures. This isn't always easy, and a lot of the time we don't like to confront our failures because we have to face our weaknesses and admit that we weren't successful. However, analysing your past failures is essential if you want to grow. Think about why you failed, what you should have done differently, and what lessons you learned from it. Write down how those failures have guided you to where you are today and how you can apply those learnings to your endeavours in future. Hopefully, this will help you to realise that failure is a key part of growth and it'll only make you more successful in the long run.
- Focus on the positives of failure. We place so much focus on the negatives that come from failure - "I'll lose out on X amount of money, people will judge me, I might end up wasting my time, it might affect my self-confidence" etc etc. But instead, try changing your perception of failure and think about what positive lessons it can bring. For me, if I didn't fail at my 2 previous blogs, I wouldn't be here writing this post sharing about my past failures. I wouldn't have had that experience and while it was shitty at the time, it actually made me so much stronger and more confident in my abilities. It had a positive outcome in the end and I'm so grateful for that.
I really hope you've found this post insightful and it's provided you with a different perspective when it comes to failure. What's your take on this - do you think that failure is success in disguise? I'd love to hear your thoughts and if this is something that you struggle with or have been able to overcome!