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I’ve recently been made aware of a new, dirty four-letter “f” word that is plaguing our society these days. The word “fail”, is a very powerful part of our vocabulary. From a young age, we are taught that any kind of failure is simply unacceptable. If you get failing grades, then you are not good enough. If you don’t have a successful career, marriage, and family, then you are a failure.
So much emphasis on trying hard to not fail can set up a perfectionist mindset that can completely undermine any efforts for real success in life. When you become a perfectionist and cannot live up to the high standard of perfection, it creates anxiety and added stress. Many, who find themselves in this boat, simply give up trying at all. It becomes easier to not try than to face the idea of being a failure yet again.
So what is so wrong with failure?
Nothing. As a matter of fact, in order to be successful in life, you have to be willing to fail. It is when we fail, that we learn and grow.
Thomas Edison did not make the light bulb a success on his very first try. The first try was a failure. But he did not give up in defeat. He wrote down what he’d done, changed the formula, and after thousands of tries, finally created the light bulb which lights our homes every night.
Early in Harrison Ford’s career, he was kicked out of the talent pools at both Universal and Columbia. And he was even told by one studio executive that he seriously lacked “star quality”. But he did not throw up his hands in defeat. He did not turn his back on Hollywood and walk away for good. He continued auditioning and acting in small movie and television roles when he could get them.
It was his persistence and refusal to allow the rejection to deter him that landed him a role in a movie called “American Graffiti” directed by George Lucas. Later, when Lucas had a difficult time casting the role of Han Solo in his movie “Star Wars”, he called on Harrison Ford to come and audition. Of course, Ford won the role, which began spiraling his career upwards. Ford makes eight-figure salaries for his films and has become an internationally recognized actor.
Jack Canfield, the successful author of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series of books had the first “Chicken Soup” book rejected 140 times. Publishers told him that the book was too positive and that there was not an audience for an anthology like that. But he continued to pursue publishers until one finally took a risk on the project. The “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series has gone on to sell over 80 million copies and has been translated into 37 languages.
The common thread found in these success stories
They did not give up! They embraced failure and learned what they could from it. And they allowed failure to help them grow and to learn valuable lessons so that the next try would be even closer to success.
In the business of coaching, there is a wonderful quote that coaches live by. “There is no such thing as failure, only feedback”. It’s when we learn to adjust our attitudes about making mistakes and then are able to recognize the valuable feedback we receive from making mistakes and failing, that ultimately, we will be able to achieve the success we strive for.
When I was in college, I was very active in the opera program at the university I attended. I was successfully cast in choice roles. But I was such a perfectionist during that time that I lost my love of singing. If it wasn’t perfect, then I wasn’t happy. I considered myself a failure.
As a result of the pressure I put on myself, I ended up with extreme anxiety, having panic attacks several times a week. I had been passionate about these things but found I had no joy left for them. Years later, I read a wonderful book entitled “The Inner Game of Music”. That book was eye-opening for me. It talked about how when you focus on not wanting to fail, you end up with more tension which will cause you to fail more. When you give yourself permission to be imperfect and to make mistakes you will end up being more relaxed which will lead to better performance. Great advice for any performing artist…and even for those who aren’t in the arts!
The problem for figure skaters
If so, perhaps you’ve noticed that if a skater falls once during a routine, typically they will fall again. Why? Because they’ve lost their focus on what is ahead of them. They remain focused on the mistake they already made, which creates tension in their body. They most likely will fall again because they are focused on the past fall instead of what is ahead of them. Because they are focused on past failures in their performance, it does not allow them to relax enough to achieve success throughout the rest of their routine.
So what do you do when confronted with failure? Do you give up? Or do you not even bother trying because you feel you can’t handle another failure? Just remember that failure is a part of life. You will not always be successful at different things you try, but, that lack of success is always a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow. The feedback is absolutely necessary to make positive changes. It’s up to you to try.
The real failure is not even making an effort. Aren’t you worth more than that?