10 things one must know about failure

A few weeks ago CII Young Indians put me on a dais with three incredible achievers – and a smashing moderator (also a serial entrepreneur with 17 companies under her wings).  The theme of the morning discussion at their Western India Summit was Dream. Inspire. Aspire. Different thoughts brought forward by speakers from varied backgrounds were beautifully woven together by our moderator. The winner of the discussion however, was FAILURE!  

This suited me just fine. From being a management school drop out, to abandoning my 12 Half-Marathons in 12 months plan last year, to losing jobs and even what the world loved to call ‘a failed marriage’, when it comes to failing – I am a winner.  And, I am gloating because this the one and only thing that gives me some common ground with Einstein, Eddison, The Beatles , Walt Disney, Steven Spielberg, JK Rowling, Milka Singh, Micahel Jordan, Steve Jobs and Henry Ford… you get the picture! 

Now, don’t get me wrong - as much as we may want to wish away the pressure -  success and social recognition of goals are important as wisely pointed out by Krushnaa Patil when she said ‘I am here only because I succeeded in summiting the Mount Everest. I have done more difficult things in life but they don’t count in the public forum!’ Not withstanding the importance of recognition for accomplishments, also what many may call ‘winning’, it was failure that came out the hero

Failure: the building block of success. And some more wise-ones. Here’s  are the top take-aways from that day’s session, including why failure can be as important as your morning dose of vitamins, packaged along with some of the other top-take away’s rom that day.  

  1. Failure is a great teacher: The way to make failure count is to learn from it. My fictionalized memoir went through rejections from almost every publisher it was sent to before it finally was accepted. Every time I got a ‘no’ I went back and asked for reasons. Continuous rejection of the manuscript of my book that made it re-write it again and again. I used the feedback from those who had read and cared to share, to clean up the book to the level that it currently at. Thanks to those rejections, I in fact had not one but two publishing deals. 
  2. Failure Energizes: Even if there is nothing divine about suffering, as I have explained in parts of my debut novel Wise Enough to be foolish, failure gives us renewed force, energy, grit, strength and determination to face the challenge, be the better one, to fight harder – it wants us want to come back to the fight for what we want. I have never seen my daughter more determined than she was after losing her athletic championship – oh how losing inspires!
  3. Failure helps us to understand risk, to sharpen our skills – With most of us failure diminishes our ability to take risks, while, what it really does is sharpen our instinct, improving our ability to take calculated risk – if we are willing to try again. Trying different things gives us the chance to learn and to identify our strengths, as well as the opportunity to strengthen your weaknesses.
  4. Take a Risk: Children have an amazing risk taking ability and we as adults over protect them and instill in them fear of things they don’t have to be afraid of, not to mention that as we grow up, we ourselves lose ability to take risks and try new things. I remember reading an article that confirmed that the experience of pain and failure – in childhood and adulthood (in fact at any age) – actually helps us sharpen our survival skills and gain experience!
  5. Enjoy the ride: When we focus on the journey instead of the destination, the way we deal with the outcome changes. It is an inside-out approach rather than an outside-in one. I wrote a book because I wanted to write, if I had worried about its success or failure or done the math on how many copies I need to sell to break even, I would probably have never gotten started. Enjoying the ride, doesn’t for a moment mean that we should not have goals or that we should not strive to achieve, but if our attitude is to enjoy the experience, more often the outcome is better as a result of our positive state of mind and so will our attitude towards the results be – whatever it may be. 
  6. Listen to your heart: Our experiences, our value system and our goals have an incredible way of coming together to sharpen our sixth sense. In my case, this proved to be true when I decided to marry a man I had never met. In the case of some entrepreneurs it is about taking some road, forget less but rather not travelled and creating successful ventures. Giving in to your inner voice is usually a good thing and we should learn to listen to it more often.  
  7. Failure fuels creativity: We are most creative when we are pushed against the wall. It is only when all the doors shut does that little window open and that’s because we have no choice but to get outside our comfort zone. If we go back and study success stories, we’ll be amazed to find out how many have been most innovative during the worst phase of their lives. 
  8. Redefining goals – There’s a reason why they say ‘lose the battle to win the war’. Not just that, pick your battles based on how meaningful they are to your overall life experiences. Not everything in life is worth fighting for and there is no shame in retreating and in scaling back or even changing your goals. Krushnaa articulately put this in perspective when talking about one of her failed summiting experiences. She said ‘I would be the same person I have always been to myself!’
  9. Pave the way for future success – This one is about knowing The Secret. Corny, I know, but true! When you want something, want it passionately enough. Anything less is not good enough. This is the only way to align the forces with your goals. But it doesn’t end there. Sometimes getting done with the stumbling blocks is a good thing because once you are done with these things, in the spirit of life being a great equalizer, you are less likely to encounter the bumps along the future path. So embrace failure, because you don’t really know how much worse things could be!
  10.  Don’t stop trying - I love this quote from one of the most celebrated sports stars of my time - ‘I can accept failure. Everyone fails at something. But I cannot accept not trying’ – Michael Jordan
And, since I am engaging in this bantering, allow me to add my own two bits on the slightly over-rated ‘talent’. I don’t completely undermine its importance, as I believe you need to have some strength base to get you somewhere. However, if we were to study the percentage of successful prodigies, it will be incredibly small compared to people with reasonable talent who mastered perfection through plodding and hard work (I haven’t done the math but it will be an interesting study that will prove my point). Not all of us are born with that sort of talent but many of us have the ability to simply achieve more.

So raise a toast to the beautiful gift of failure. Stop fearing the unknown and just get out there!!! 

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