Maybe What You Need is a Good … Failure!?

A reader writes with the following quote: “Have you ever considered that your biggest problem is that you haven’t failed ENOUGH?” (Matt Hussey)

He writes: I like what this implies. Not enough risk taking toward value obtainment and missing your goal; AND KEEP going on to learn and build from the miss. That is what I take away from the quote.

Very interesting quote!

One of the major errors a lot of people make is how they globalize the concept “failure.” In other words, they look at a single error, or even a single failure in one endeavor, as a global verification of their (alleged, subjectively felt) failure as a person.

This error stems from a false belief that all of one’s worth is defined by a single moment or achievement in time.

Think about it from the other direction. Imagine someone accomplishes something great, even brilliant. Does this guarantee or imply success in all contexts? No. In fact, anyone who accomplishes anything great usually does so in the midst of many and repeated failures. Study the biography of any great inventor, entrepreneur or achiever and you’ll see proof of this point.

Although persistence does not guarantee an ultimately successful outcome, the actual achievement of anything worthwhile is typically riddled with repeated failures, disappointments and frustration–making a strong case for persistence.

Sometimes people feel depressed or hopeless not because of their failures, but because of their not having taken action. “I’m a failure. I can’t do anything and shouldn’t try.” This is what they say, or feel. But the reason they feel like failures is because they have failed to take action. They have repeatedly avoided risks, shied away from initiative, or otherwise taken a passive or avoidant path in life.

In a sense, this is failure.  Failure to take intelligent action is, in a way, the only real way to be a failure. But it was never inevitable and it need not continue.

If you’re in this state of mind, maybe what you need is a good failure. It sounds paradoxical, but it’s true. If you start to fail, at least you’re taking action. You’re testing hypotheses in your given field or area of endeavor. You’re trying out new things, you’re experimenting with new takes on areas in which you’re knowledgeable, or else you acquire knowledge in fields new to you.

That’s what life is all about: Meaning, purpose, productive achievement. Life is a series of steps: hypothesis developing, hypothesis testing, and observation/analysis of failed or successful outcomes. Not just in science, but in any arena important to you.

Failure is an emotionally laden term because of the globalization issue I mentioned. Sometimes it’s better to replace that term with words like, “error” or “mistake” or “disappointment.” It’s even OK to say you failed in a certain activity, if you did. But don’t equate failure in one context, performance or endeavor with failure in all of life. If you look at failure this way, you’ll depress yourself and then you will start on the road of failing to act.

Never view yourself a failure, as a person. Chances are you have not failed at everything. Even if you have, errors are correctable. A permanent mindset that one is incapable of success, ever, will not allow for corrections or improvements.

Too often, people give up on their dreams. In so doing, they’re giving up on their deepest values. It’s a renunciation of self for which there’s always a price. Just as your body eventually sends out signals (in the form of medical illness) if you smoke, gain too much weight, or eat poorly, your subconscious mind sends out signals (in the form of psychological/emotional pain) if you don’t spend all of your life attempting to actualize as many of your dreams, goals and values as you can.

I’m a big advocate of taking your dreams seriously. We tend to look at “dreams” as the stuff of fantasy, or nighttime, or a state of unconsciousness. But your goals and values ought not to be merely or primarily the stuff of slumber. They ought to be vivid, real and alive every waking and thinking moment you have, for as long as you live.

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