It’s Not Failure

[12/20/10]

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(photo by Seeding-Chaos)

All throughout grade school, I was taught that failure was wrong. I distinctly remember how I would cringe at receiving anything below a perfect score in middle school.

So what I was I being good at? Memorizing large quantities of information. In order to pass tests, I would swallow the textbook a few days beforehand and forget it all by the end of the week. Multiple-choice tests trained everyone to scan for the right answer, not problem solve under a pressure situation.

Because I was motivated by what I now perceive to be a hollow letter, I only funneled my energy into spitting out things I was taught to be “right.” I didn’t question anything in particular. Because I didn’t question authority, I often didn’t think for myself and simply recited the knowledge around me verbatim.  

But what was the motivation for all of this? The fear of failure.

I didn’t want to be one of those kids that received punishments by the school, their parents and their peers if they didn’t do well. Yet it’s also embedded in all kinds of life quotes that people have to fail in order to learn.

So I was afraid to try, because trying meant I would most likely (in my mind) fail.

I’ve realized this more and more the longer I’ve been away from home, but I didn’t fully appreciate it until my teacher for a design course this fall told me one day: “You have to fail at least a couple of times before you get it right. I haven’t seen you fail yet.”

It hit me then. It made so much sense. I had been procrastinating on developing the prototype for my group’s concept, because I was afraid it wouldn’t work. But of course it’s not going to work. It never works the first time.

Quite simply, failure is only a concept, a word that people came up to describe something or perhaps someone who hasn’t made it work. That’s all it is. But if something doesn’t work, you try something else, modify the original plan a little and keep trying. It’s not the end of the world.

But because we have this word “failure,” we impress feelings of guilt and shame onto people during situations where things aren’t running smoothly.

When other people tell you that you have failed, you have to realize that it’s not up to them to tell you that; it’s up to you. This culturally-conceived notion of “failure” keeps us from doing our best. It keeps us from taking the risks we need to learn, develop and grow as individuals. We never actually fail until we stop thinking, doing, making…

So instead of saying I’m going to fail a hundred times, I’m making it a personal goal to “try,” “struggle,” and to “aspire” more this year – all of which are more productive than pondering the consequences of failure.

 

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