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How to Fail Like a Winner


So far this week, I've been able to grant three wishes. The first was to give you permission to be anyone you want to be. The second, to do anything you want to do. To follow your bliss, no matter where it leads you. And third, in order to fight the dreaded impostor syndrome, I gave you permission to fake it 'till you make it, and to be a total fraud. Not to allow negative thinking, self-sabotage, or fear of being judged an impostor to dissuade you from pursuing or enjoying success.

Which brings me to today's topic of discussion, one I am particularly well qualified to present. That is the subject of failure. As we were talking about all of the negative attributes of the impostor syndrome yesterday, I wrote about how crippling the fear of failure can be. And I know that many people can become completely paralyzed by this fear of failing.

Then I thought, who in the hell are these people that they've never failed? Really? 'Cause I seem to fail all the time. I thought that was the point. Not to enjoy failure, or to seek it out, but to realize that failure is a vital part of the process to succeed. Look at the scientific method. You come up with an idea, then beat the crap out of it until you can't any more. That's the only reliable pathway to truth that I know. The trick is to actually learn from failure, and to keep the right mental attitude. I think it was Churchill who said, "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm."

Take a moment on Google to see just how many amazing and inspiring stories there are about successful people who have failed magnificently. It's really quite reassuring. So what made us believe that failure was such a bad thing to begin with? I'm guessing it was school. We failed at sports, we failed tests, courses, driver's exams, dating the hotties in our senior year. But it may go deeper than that. If we were raised in the Judeo-Christian traditions, we have Adam and Eve messing things up for us all, and then again with the flood. Failure seems to be a very bad thing in our culture, and yet we seem to do it so often. No wonder we tend to be conflicted.

The reality is that failure is integral to success. Again, I'm not talking about neglect, or willful sabotage, but trying, innovating, and exploration. These are vital parts of the process. And it turns out there are benefits too. Failure should keep us motivated, since each iteration moves us closer to success. Failure brings clarity, focus, and teaches us all of the parameters around a problem or discovery. Failure should also inspire us to reach out and seek help from others, who may have information key to our progress. Failure can build character, encourage new systems, and promote research and development. It can clarify the scope of a problem, identify gaps in knowledge, and lead to collateral discoveries along the way. For goodness sake, it took the space program to bring us Tang. Failure can give us raw data that can lead to new discovery, and the refinement of processes and systems.

As artsy types, we know that failure can boost creativity. We can use it to hone our craft, or to discover new techniques and effects. Failure can teach us to improve the quality of our work, allow us to develop best practices, and to rethink and reimagine. Without failure, I can't believe there would be art, or music. Without failure, novelists and playwrights could not grasp the subtle depths of the human experience, and poets could not connect us with our nature. It also keeps editors busy as well.

So why do we not celebrate failure? We should have a parade! Let's shake off the millennia of guilt and shame associated with failing, and let's hold our heads high. We fail all the time, and that makes us all pretty wonderful.

So shall we do this? I will go and get my magic want if you're ready. I give you permission to fail often, to fail at big things and small, to embrace your vulnerability, and to value and celebrate messing things up, getting things wrong, and failing spectacularly... without guilt, penalty, or discouragement.

Oops, looks like I left the wand at the office. But what the heck, I can still grant wishes without it right. I don't need no stinking wand... Poof...

Hope that worked. Let me know if I failed.

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