They say you have to fail before you can succeed. By “them,” I mean the inspirational slogans all up in your phone. Sure, you probably will fail before you get anywhere in life.
But so what? Lots of people fail before they fail again. And they just keep failing until they die.
We’re trying to avoid that.
Failure doesn’t guarantee success. Not by itself. Sometimes failure just leads to your mom’s basement. Especially if you wallow and revel in it.
Real failure feels like shit. And it should.
Take it from me, someone who’s failed plenty. Last week I almost didn’t arrive at daycare on time because I got stuck in traffic for almost two hours. A couple of bad wrecks clogged up the entire city. And I spent that time basically screaming F-bombs over classic rock.
Near failures can feel like the real thing. And the experience only teaches you one sad fact. In this case, I’ll have to start leaving an extra hour early in the afternoons, my peak productivity time, so I don’t become that parent. I’ll adjust. So will you.
Real failure delivers unsettling truths.
Most people don’t want to hear the shitty, unsettling truth. I’m not talking about hard truths. There’s a difference. You see, hard truths tell you to work longer hours. Generate more content. Go to more networking events, even if you don’t like people. We almost crave hard truths now.
A shitty truth says you can’t afford that networking event. You don’t have the skill set to do what you’re trying to do yet. Maybe you should produce less content, and spend more time on your craft.
Hard truths usually tell you to do more faster. Shitty truths tell you to slow down and think through your choices.
Real failure brings you to a standstill.
You might do everything right and still fail. Because a million other people are trying to do what you do. Because certain factors lie so far beyond your control, it should make you laugh.
Some people will always be smarter, better looking, or luckier than you. Life isn’t fair. Have you noticed?
That doesn’t mean you should give up. Just pace yourself. Stop where you are. Glance around to make sure the trail you’re hiking down is actually the right one for you. There’s no shame in backing up for a different one.
Real failure reveals your true talents.
So you didn’t land your Plan A. Most people don’t. But you probably did discover a few things you’re good at. Things you enjoy doing.
Your Plan B, C, and D don’t have to be things you do just to pay the bills. They don’t have to be things you hate. They can call for the same skill set as Plan A. In other words, you’re still doing what you enjoy.
Your Plan C just sparkles less. It doesn’t pay as much. But if you’re doing something you truly find meaningful, something you’re good at, then the sparkle and the dollar signs shouldn’t matter. Too many people fall in love with the cover photo of their Plan A. They won’t let go. They fail. Then they slide into their Plan B or C with an arrogant attitude, and they screw those up too. It’s a life of true self-torture.
Real failure forces you to decide what matters.
Nobody possesses infinite resources. It just looks that way. Even the richest entrepreneur would run out of money after enough big failures. Most of us only have the finances to survive one disaster, if that.
So when you fail big, it hurts more than just your ego. Cheer up. Things just got real, and now’s a good time to be honest.
Make a tough choice about your future. That doesn’t mean you parents were right. It’s not time for med school quite yet. Besides, you might fail at that too. Especially if it’s something you’d only do to pay the bills.
Only you really know what comes next. But it probably shouldn’t include a sequel to your first failure.
Real failure leaves you scared and uncertain.
Last night I had an astonishing revelation while doing the dishes. I finally said to myself, “I’m not just stressed, I’m scared.” About what’s going to happen to my job. About whether I’ll be able to find a new one. About a future where I keep losing work due to budget crises. About moving my family around the country for the next twenty years, until my daughter hates me.
Most of us will do anything to avoid fear. But you have to see it in order to do anything meaningful with your life.
So admit your real fears. Maybe you’re not just a little worried that your startup won’t take off like a Space X rocket. Or that your video won’t go viral. You’re really afraid that you’ll keep making all this content, and it won’t ever lead to the security we all so desperately need. It’s a legitimate feeling, and something none of us can afford to shrug off with a selfie.
Real failure isn’t always your fault.
Nobody succeeds on their own. And nobody fails that way, either. The people you depend on can let you down. You can’t control everything.
But don’t let this idea comfort you too much.
You still have to deal with all the consequences of your failure, whether you caused it directly or not. Plus, you have to reevaluate who you put your trust in. You might have to end a working friendship, or find a new job. Or even give up something you love to do for a little while. That’s what makes real failure hard to accept.
Real failure calls for a step back.
You have to accept real failure. But that doesn’t mean you just give up. Not forever. You adjust. You moderate your expectations. You rethink your basic habits and assumptions.
You actually take a break for once, because maybe you’re exhausted.
Exhausted people shouldn’t be working harder. They should take a nap and go for a walk. If you’re burned out, you won’t produce your best material. No matter what industry you work in.
Real failure can set you free.
One of my aunts writes romance novels. They’re not bad. But they’re not great, either. She’s published a dozen of them. And she takes writing very seriously. She’s always out there, hustling. It wears her out.
Plenty of people have told her to quit. I’m not one of them. But maybe she should just chill with the marketing. See, she’s poured countless hours and dollars into gimmicks to sell more books. Time and resources she could’ve spent in better ways.
My first book tour ended in ruin. It did nothing but drain my bank account and flatten my pride. Well, that second thing needed to happen. But now I see that you don’t have to hustle. You can just do something you enjoy and see what happens. It’s liberating.