“Everybody fails sometimes.” “Failure makes you stronger.” “Failure is the key to success.” I’m sure we’ve all heard these sayings at one point in life or another.
We’ve heard them from empathetic friends, concerned parents and encouraging teachers, but what does failure mean?
We live in a society where all our achievements are ranked metrically on scales that have been devised. We have academic grades and degrees to measure how much we know, understand and remember; sports medals to show how much better we are at physical coordination than others and world records to show that we are literally the best in the whole world at a skill. Even abstract things like literature and art are compared and given awards. Failure is what happens when we can’t prove that we’re the best in the field that we have chosen.
In short, the Oxford Dictionary defines failure as “lack of success”.
Since childhood, we are pitted against one another. We’ve been told that to be the best is the only thing worth being. It is the only thing that will earn us respect from friends and make our parents proud. No wonder so many of us shudder at the thought of failure. We’ve learnt how to welcome and embrace success, but we haven’t understood how to cope with failure.
We often look at great people—scientists, entrepreneurs, writers, artists and world leaders in awe. We’re blinded by their achievements. We can’t look past their talent. We think that they’re lucky that they’ve been given gifts that enable them to be the best. What we don’t see is the most important aspect of their personalities—perseverance and constant improvement. There is not a single ‘great man’ out there who has not worked hard despite failing multiple times. What sets great people apart from other people is their attitude towards failure.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”, said Thomas Edison, the inventor of the first incandescent light bulb.
Edison and his colleagues tested over 3,000 designs for the light bulb over a span of more than two years before finally arriving at an optimum design. He spent years learning from what didn’t work and perfecting the design. Had he given up at the 2999th attempt, we wouldn’t have had the design that led to the advanced lighting technology of today.
“If you fail, never give up because F.A.I.L. means ‘First Attempt In Learning’”, said Bharat Ratna
Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, our nation’s Missile Man and eleventh President.
During his career, Mr. Kalam encountered many failures—the premature death of the hovercraft project Nandi, the abandoning of RATO and ultimately, the failed launch of his SLV3 satellite, which happened while the entire nation was watching. Instead of giving up, he learnt from his mistakes and successfully launched the Rohini satellite into orbit less than a year later.
All these people tried and tried again until they succeeded. As all of these great personalities say, there is much to learn from failure. In the words of Albert Einstein, “Failure is success in progress”. Failure shows us what we should not do. By critically analysing all the decisions taken before the failure, we can avoid it in the future. With an unbiased mind, we must survey our situation and find out what led to the failure. It is in this analysis that we can strengthen ourselves and our belief in the idea.
There are millions of ways to fail at something and only a few ways to succeed. Once we have tried and failed millions of times, we are bound to be successful. It is only a matter of patience and perseverance.
All of these instances display the indomitable spirit of people who have excelled in their field. We see that by constantly improving our idea, we can succeed. But besides perseverance, there is another aspect to success.
Failure does not mean that our ideas are not good. Sometimes, when the idea is novel, society may have a difficult time accepting it. Sometimes, we just need one more chance to prove that our idea will work. We don’t always have to modify our ideas. Sometimes, they are already perfect.
“The difference in winning and losing is most often not quitting.”,said Walt Disney, the creator of Disneyland which is reckoned by many as ‘the Happiest Place on Earth.’
After a failed cartoon business and an unsuccessful career in acting, Disney had a copyright on a character he created taken away from him. In the midst of heavy debt, he introduced a new character ‘Mickey Mouse’. Even after this being a success, no one was willing to take a risk on him. He was rejected over 300 times before one banker said yes to financially backing him. Instead of giving up in the face of adversity, he continued to believe in his ability and went on to create so many of the wonderful Disney characters we all know.
“Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way”, says JK Rowling, the author of the bestselling series Harry Potter.
She was rejected by no less than twelve major publishers after finishing her first book. At the time, she was unemployed and was struggling to make ends meet. She would not be where she is today if she had not approached that thirteenth publisher. She shows us that what we need to believe in most, is ourselves.
Being rejected even though we know that our idea is good should strengthen our resolve to carry it out even more. The rejection teaches us that even if a small section of people do not accept the idea, it doesn’t mean that the idea is not good. If our ideas are worth it, we must have unwavering belief in them.
Sometimes, other people can fail to recognise potential and may reject an unconventional idea. But we mustn’t give up our individuality to conform to certain standards. Sometimes what other people see as an unfavourable trait can actually be advantageous.
Take the example of Oprah Winfrey. Her first boss told her that she was too emotional and not fit for television. In the years that followed, she used her emotions and empathy to connect with people on her talk show and went on to forge a path for a new type of ‘tabloid talk shows’ on television. Her show ran successfully for twenty-five years.
But blindly believing in our ideas isn’t wise either. The trick is in knowing when to give up. It is knowing our limits and where they lie. For this, we must know ourselves thoroughly. We must have a good estimate of our abilities, spirit and resources. Chasing after some distant dream is not good for any of us. It will simply put a strain on our life.
Take the example of Isaac Newton. When he was just a boy, his mother took him out of school to handle their family farm. Soon though, it was apparent that he did not have a talent for it and went to study at Trinity College during which he made his famous discovery of gravity.
If he had continued to pursue his farming career in the hope that it would succeed, we would have missed out on so many of his important scientific contributions.
In the event of identifying that the direction taken is not best suited to our ability, we must shift our focus to another achievable goal that emphasises our strengths.
It is every person’s life goal to be successful at what they do. By using pillars made from the knowledge of our failures, we can erect a beautiful and bright future for ourselves. Every small failure in life is another lesson learnt and should be used to strengthen our foundation.
If you look at it statistically, there is no way we can avoid failure. We have to learn to cope with failure and how to make the best of it. Ultimately, success lies in the perfect balance of knowing ourselves, constantly improving and believing in our abilities.