Updated: Oct 28, 2020
Many of us dread failure. Few words are as singularly powerful. Read it again - FAILURE. While perhaps not as widely fear-inducing as public speaking or heights, failure is similarly imposing. Often it inspires visions of shame and conjures a never-ending parade of imagined horribles. Embarrassment, wasted time, wasted money, high opportunity cost, and letting down loved ones, just to name a few. It also does not help that our culture so heavily prizes winning -- or at least, the veneer of it. The greatness of professional athletes is measured by championships. Those with wealth are said to be winning at life. And one's physical appearance, by and large, is often interpreted as indicative of whether they're a "winner." This is gauged, generally speaking, by some combination of physical fitness, body type, and/or fashion.
What's more, ever-pervasive social media reinforces this "avoid-failure-at-all-costs" tenet relentlessly. How many posts have you seen of new jobs, graduations, successful weight loss regimens, new houses, lucrative business ventures, and expanding families? Now consider how few posts you've likely seen about job rejections or layoffs, school dropouts, unsuccessful weight loss efforts, houses lost to foreclosure or a higher bidder, business ventures gone awry, or the disappointments of infertility. There are likely far more of the former than the latter, even though in "real life," such unfortunate outcomes occur with high frequency as well. The point of this post, though, is not to discourage celebration of success. By definition, success--however one defines it--is something to which we all aspire. Failure is not. And social media would likely be somewhat depressing if it featured voluminous images of disappointing outcomes. A constant celebration of "success" may have many drawbacks, but it also possesses many positives - including the capacity to inspire. The suggestion we're making, however, is that readers reconsider the meaning of "failure" and do away with the succeed vs. fail binary when it comes to individual desired outcomes with careers, academics, etc. Why? Because life is a fluid journey. A book, which -- as adults, at least -- we get to write ourselves. This means that discrete experiences of not reaching a goal or succeeding in the way we initially desire are nothing more than detours on the individual journey each of us is making. They, by themselves, do not invalidate the journey. Here's a metaphor to illustrate our point: If I set a destination on Waze or Google Maps, and the route I initially plan to use is changed because of traffic or an accident (i.e., things beyond my control), the entire trip itself is likely not deemed a lost cause. I simply continue to the destination either on a new route, or perhaps I tweak the destination or the timing of when I plan to go. In so doing, I will likely gain new knowledge of a shortcut, how best to avoid traffic in the area, or other relevant information. This is information which I can use in the future to benefit myself and others. By the same token, if a job I apply for doesn't work out, or a business I start doesn't take off, or a workout regimen doesn't yield results, my career, business ambitions, and physical fitness are not a lost cause. I'm still on the same journey to fulfillment in all three respects. The undesired outcomes are merely detours. Detours which will enable me to gain knowledge and probably lead me to even more desirable stops in my lifelong journey toward happiness and fulfillment. True, there may be consequences of me taking those detours. And I should account for them strategically. But history is also littered with examples of those whose perceived detour-free "success" proved to be their undoing. Through my "failure," I'll find a job that is a better fit, I'll become aware of business pitfalls to avoid, and I'll zero in on a fitness regimen that works better for me. Also, to be blunt, there was zero chance of me ever succeeding if I'd made zero effort to try in the first place. Rev. Charles G. Adams, a famous pastor of a Detroit church, often delivered a sermon with theme of "contrary winds." This was his more eloquent term for the "detours" described here, but his message was largely the same. Whether you refer to them as "contrary winds," detours, or something else, we all experience disappointments in life. And the idea of that disappointment inspires fear for a variety of reasons. The fear is not unreasonable, but we should not let it deter us. Why? Because previous disappointment, undesired outcomes, and yes, FAILURE, are most often part and parcel of our success. So the next time you contemplate a career or academic move, don't be deterred by failure. Pursue the goal strategically, wholeheartedly, and with ample preparation. (Wisdem will, of course, be here to help!) But also remember that regardless of the outcome, it is another valuable part of your life's journey - a story which YOU write, and which has fulfilling chapters yet to unfold. #failure #wisdemllc #striveforgreatness #falldowngetbackup #detrours #notafraidtofail #successthroughfailure #keepyourheadup