It’s likely the one word in our vocabulary that causes the most fear, anxiety, insecurity, disappointment in ourselves, and disappointment in others:
But, it’s a word that we use and interpret far too harshly. What does “failure” mean, anyway?
Consider the Webster’s Dictionary definition:
(Courtesy of merriam-webster.com/dictionary)
Certainly what you’re aware of in your mind, and feeling in your heart, as you consider “failure” — even as you read though the definition word for word– are deep-rooted emotional effects of a long-lived semantic misinterpretation in our language.
The Failure Fallacy
The definition of the word as compared to its perceived meaning is extremely problematic. At the very least, it disregards all of the effort and energy put into reaching one’s current position. Feeling like a failure, or, feeling that one has failed, can become a huge obstacle in life, work, and business.
However, the concept of failure as you’ve learned and embodied it is an emotional perception. The effects of perceived failure on human sentiment are what cause negative emotions. In the context of business and office culture, failure entices feelings of: inadequacy, lack of preparedness, lack of confidence, self-consciousness, etc. Let me explain further, using opposing terms.
The opposite of what we perceive as “failure” is not “success” — it’s apathy.
That is, not caring at all, or not trying at all.
In an effort to change the perception of failure, use this analogy to interpret failure:
Failure → Apathy
Success → Unfulfillment
Then, consider again Webster’s point 1.a.,
“:omission of occurrence or performance.
specifically: A failing to perform a duty or expected action”
Conceivably, failure is not trying. It’s not acting, not doing the duty– not performing the means to an end. Emotionally, it’s the guilt of feeling like you didn’t try at all. It is NOT not achieving.
A Paradox of Success
Before we make up our minds to try any task or create any goal, we define the “expected action”– what we believe successful accomplishment of a task looks like. In other words, we confine the “success” of a task into the checkbox of predetermined, pre-ascribed, intended result of the effort– at the same time, we often subconsciously consider that any other result to be a “failure.” We define fulfillment too early, too restrictively.
Besides also being an emotional perception– the truth is, success is arguable. It’s subjective to personal perspective. Success is based on inner experience, rather than fact.
Regardless of what anyone says, or however anyone misuses or misinterprets the word “failure”– we have control over our own vision of success. Contemplate the words of writer, Denis Waitley:
“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”
By changing your convicted expectations, by believing that failure is also achieving an unexpected result, you’ll find truth in that failure is equally as finite as success. You’re just not quite done yet!
Back to Webster’s point, 3. a.,
“A falling short”
Think about your childhood dreams and career aspirations. You wanted to be a fireman– now, you’re a ___.
Most of us likely “failed” to achieve our childhood dreams. Did you? If it matters, you’re holding yourself hostage to the knowledge you had when you made the initial decision to become a fireman. Believe it now– if you never contradict yourself, you’re proving resistance to learning from experience.
Winston Churchill said,
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
Still want to be a fireman? When they say “it’s never too late,” believe it’s the truth. Happiness and contentment (also known as “success,”) is accepting your current situation as it exists, or otherwise taking responsibility for changing the circumstances.
If you don’t achieve the expected result, steer yourself into a mindset that derives value from the experience of trying to achieve.
Achieving unexpected results provide clarity as well as opportunities we would not have otherwise encountered. Achieving, both expected and unexpected outcomes, is necessary for learning, discovery, innovation, advancement, development, etc.
Take it from Robert F. Kennedy,
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
And from Eloise Ristand,
“When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.”
And from Stanford University professor, Robert Sutton,
“Failure sucks, but instructs.”
Accept the emotional perception of failure but reject the guilt of contradiction. Stumble on, succeed at failure, hold onto your enthusiasm, learn from mistakes, acknowledge unexpected opportunities that have come as a result of pursuing a result you expect, and by all means necessary, walk away from whatever causes you apathy.
By Polly Burge