There’s this strange notion of failure, that everyone is talking about… Fail fast! avoid failure! only those that have failed, succeed! Failure makes you humble! Fail, failure, to fail… however you dissect it… it still comes down to failure.
But I don’t agree, there’s something flawed in this logic… this mass herd, running and carrying these words along with them. Peddling this nonsense, from door-to-door, it annoys me because it’s useless advice, useless words. Why? Read on.
Thanks to ka.hi for the above photo.
Failure in life
To fail in life, what does this even mean? Everyone seems to be looking for absolute outcomes, how not to do something wrong… to fail. But we all do this on a constant basis. Just look at how you constantly failed as a toddler, child or teenager.
When you were a toddler learning to walk, you didn’t just get up one day and think in your mind “I command myself – not to fail” and your parents didn’t support you by saying “right, now when you get up to attempt walking, what ever you do… don’t fail!”.
No it’s the exact opposite. You got up, bumped your head, arms, legs, toppled over a few times… and sometimes in fantastic fashion. But eventually you went from sitting, to crawling and then finally onward to graduate to walking. You came out better on the other side and learned how to walk.
During your child, teenager and young adult life, you got so good at walking that you started to doing some interesting things with those legs and arms of yours. You started running, participating in various sports and for some of us, went on to do amazing things with our bodies (think gymnastics, horse riding, tennis, football, motocross, etc) the list is endless. But during this time, its again apparent and simply obvious that you learned how to master your mind and body to do amazing movements – but again you would have fallen, moved incorrectly, hit or kick or miss the ball a few times. Nothing was perfect… but still failure was a part of your life, helping you master your ability and sharpening your talent.
How to avoid failure?
Somewhere along the way, after your movements required finer control and need for enhanced aptitude to complete tasks, needed to be upgraded a few times… you were told “don’t fail”. “Don’t fail your tests”, “don’t become a failure” these was the common fodder fed to most of us.
But there were some other messages, said in a different way… “Keep practising, until you succeed”, “Keep trying”, “That’s great, you almost did it!”. These messages, don’t focus on failure or how to avoid failure. Rather they offer you encouragement, push you to excel and galvanise your thoughts in process, to achieve the outcome you wanted to aim for.
You see to avoid failure, is illogical. Furthermore being vigilant and always on the lookout for this hidden little devil of failure is rather silly because failure is simply not avoidable. Yes, you will problematically fail less, meaning achieve a desired outcome successfully once you get good at it.
There are standard deviations and tolerances all around us, look at manufacturing, sports, you waking up in the morning. Not everything is 100% machined, not every ball gets knocked out the park and you have a variation between waking up on time and hitting that horrible snooze button. The point is, tolerances allow us to expect normality and behave normally.
In the end, this is acceptable… normal (let’s leave what is normal, etc – but I trust you understand the context here).
How not to fail?
Simply put, this form of reasoning is misplaced. We should embrace failure, embrace mistakes and not think in absolute terms. If you should ask the logical “turtles, all the way down” questions i.e. why? You should find that even if you reach an outcome or achievement or goal… there would be another thing/task/desire to reach for. So the process starts all over again. To not to fail, clearly seems misplaced, misunderstood.
Everyone is chanting and cheer-leading at the same time. But if people, just stopped for one minute and gave it a little more thought, they would see that they are failing themselves and others with their “don’t fail” messages and praises.
Stop thinking this way, it’s not effective.
How to be successful
The image I chose for this blog is a rusted old car, without wheels and interior. Essentially it is stuck – it does not move or go forward in motion. But we are not lumps of metal, we are fortunate for we are always moving. When we stop – it means we are in the worst profound state, which is dead.
Invariably, if you thought about it, we could remove the rust of the vehicle, put new wheels on, rebuild and polish the engine, replace a few parts… and with a bit of luck, the car would be moving again. There is a clear difference between people though, when you’re dead you’re dead… well, until Walt Disney and friends unfreeze themselves this clause will be updated.
We have a choice to keep on going forward. Unfortunately people stop, they turn to all sorts of dopamine enhancers to keep them in a holding pattern. You know what I’m talking about, eating too much, drinking too much, the little sniffs of the white powder, the TV or online streaming – all mind crack with variations in between, along the way. It’s a shame to see people in these holding pattern states. Yes, people need help (after all it’s not that simple). But people still need to find their own way, out of the holding pattern. Why? questions down and you’ll inevitability come to the conclusion that people need to help themselves.
Divorcing “failure” and embracing opportunity
The mind a complex machine, we do not understand it completely. However, we are making progress. We understand the way we think about things, has a very big correlation to the way we attack a problem. In my opinion pessimists stand along the sides, while optimists charge forward.
Imagine you want to climb a mountain. It’s a great idea to plan ahead, define a set of routes and understand the weather conditions for the time of year. Along with this is to get all necessary equipment, emergency supplies and have various procedures planned.
However, thinking can go one of two ways. Before you even start, you could think about all the failures, what could go wrong, why you can’t do it, etc, etc. Once you get into this mode, your brain simply keeps added fuel to this fire… and before you even start to do anything (even plan) you talk yourself out of it.
However, if you think about what… you want to accomplish, climb the mountain. You start thinking that you should make it, climb it and imagining getting to the top. From my point of view, this is a far healthy mindset to begin with. Sure we need to be aware of risks – but risk management is not pessimism.
This is why I distance myself from pessimists and “failure” thinking. Divorce these people and thinking quickly, for they (thoughts included) weigh you down and prevent you from all things possible.
Path to success
From my experience, there is simply the “path”, a journey. I heard it so many times… its about the journey and not the destination. We’ve heard this so many times, its lost its meaning. I’ve come to think about this as simply the “path”.
Photo courtesy of solarisgirl (see her other great photos)
Thinking about the path, has many benefits for me (and I only recently thought about this after taking a long bicycle trip between Berlin and London, so it’s rather fresh). I don’t think in absolute terms, yes of course I think about the outcome i.e. what I want to achieve, however it’s not left or right – success or failure thinking.
Simply get onto the path, keep following it. Yes, sometimes there is no “path” and you have to cut your own. Where existing paths are – it does not always follow convention to follow the paths.. everyone else does.
Let me provide a couple of examples. To get from Berlin to London, I could have taken well known paths like taking the train, plane or bus. Unconventional paths would be to use a bicycle or walk. Before I set out, many people said I was crazy, said I wouldn’t make it, etc, etc. I was amazed to hear these things. But once I set off… yes it got tough and hard, but I eventually made it. What was really funny is that these very same people changed their words… and said “I really respect you” or “that was an amazing trip you took”.
But I didn’t tell people the real reason for wanting to do it… I know about all the theory around limits that we set out for ourselves and found some of this thinking to be true and more importantly, how to break out of this. When living in Russia, I found a new level of mind when performing various experiments. The people I was surrounded in Moscow were very supportive and patient with me (I have tremendous thanks for them) – that is the other reason why, you need good people around you, to support you.
So coming back from Russia, I wanted to take this thinking to a new level and the cycling journey presented itself as the perfect opportunity. During that trip, I broke through so many mental barriers and achieved more, mentally than most of my entire life – due to this change in thinking and understanding it.
My real reason was not to get from Berlin to London… it was to see what my mind was capable of, to strengthen this method of thinking. I’m glad to say I achieved what I wanted to accomplish 😉 It was very personal for me, and I did not care what others said because I was doing this for me.
So getting back to life, your life, my life… we all want to achieve, all want to attain and achieve “success” – but thinking in absolute terms. Is flawed.
For example, you want to start a company or make something or get fit whatever…
Before you start, you hear the failure statistics “30%, 55% then 66%, 90%”, whatever the peanut gallery throws out there, you’re got this at the back of your mind all the time. “Don’t fail!” or “Avoid failure at all costs” or one of my favourite from the most successful men (Warren Buffett) “Never loose money” – but even he has broken his rule a few times and all the others who “avoided failure” had some forms of failure along the way.
Listening to peanut gallery quotes and sayings, hearing about how people spew their guts out on a blog “why we failed” or other variations, just is feedback to you – these people have simply given up… they have stopped.
If you don’t have capital, find work, if you cant find higher paid work, if not flip burgers, if not do something. But in the end, don’t give up – herald yourself and take pride in being a member of the “we failed squad”.
There is no such absolute thing, you keep going on your path – simple, that’s it. Take a step back, deviate – but always keep walking on your path.
The picture above shows rocks next to and in the path, of course don’t expect that life won’t throw a rock down into your path. Personally I believe, this is done for a reason. Life wants you to be sure, to check in with you. “Do you really want this?” and to test this, throws down a rock. You have a few options, first find a way over or round or blow the thing up! Or as in many cases observed, people cease – stop and don’t move forward along their path. It’s so so sad to observe. When life asks the question to the latter, they say “No or I don’t know”. Life just smiles, “Thought so”.
However, when faced with adversity “smile, tell life – yes, I want this!” and go forward. So many times on my bike journey, things broke, I had to find alternatives. The wind and rain and hardship of sleeping rouge were all obstacles. And I found ways and had a little luck on the way from unexpected places.
But I kept on, “smiled even harder, wider” because I knew, If I achieved this, I would have a very strong mind. As for projects, yes, I too am having to take a step back – but I’m smiling because I’m sticking to my path and yes, I’m still smiling.
Hope this helps you, comments are welcome. Enjoy being on your path.