Failure is Not

… a person, a thing or a reason to not do what compels you. My favorite treatise on failure comes from Ed Catmull’s book, Creativity Inc., “For most of us, failure comes with baggage –a lot of baggage– that I believe is traced directly back to our days in school… failure means you didn’t study or prepare; failure means you slacked off or — worse! — aren’t smart enough to begin with.”

Strictly speaking, I failed throughout my life: elections lost, rowing races lost, papers and exams with low or failing grades, scholarship applications rejected, meetings bungled, and  fired once in college. But here’s the deal… when it comes to trying new things, sure I get knocked down, but I also pop back up like a weeble-wobble. My ego has been severely bruised, but my person never crushed.

It does not mean the losses and rejections have no sting or impact. Of course they do. But so far as I know losing, getting rejected, earning a low grade or even getting fired hasn’t killed a person yet.

Failing frequently taught me that

  • perseverance pays off,
  • very few people actually notice,
  • the thrill of victory FAR outweighs the sting of failure,
  • my stories of a “knock down drag out” failure are usually hilarious (after a time), and
  • I learn every single time.

His colleague, Andrew Stanton, says, “fail early and fail fast,” and “be as wrong as fast as you can.” I second this attitude. Recently I defended my dissertation proposal. While my research idea was sound, there were gaps in the initial write up. I gathered the smartest engineers and scientists I knew and asked them to tear my idea and proposal to shreds. I presented to the group and for the next 60 minutes that is exactly what happened. They could not have done me a bigger favor: by the time I got to my actual defense, I knew my project’s shortcomings and how to solve for them. Unanimous pass.

Go do something that you do not have to be the best at. Go try something for the sake of really sucking at it. Go get the wind knocked out of you when the stakes are low just so you know you will get back up when the stakes are high.

If you are in the habit of letting failure dictate your path forward, it is time to break this habit.

creativity inc

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