The Price of Eliminating Failure
|June 28, 2012||Posted by Roshawn Watson under Uncategorized|
By: Roshawn Watson
Do you like to lose? Me neither. That said, sitting out the game because of the possibility of a loss is not a good strategy either. Our experiences shape who we are. By eliminating the possibility of failure, we may be shielding ourselves from the very adversity critical to experiencing serendipitous success, creative inspiration, and character development. These are key elements necessary to catapult us towards greater achievement. According to author Paul Tough, “the struggle to pull (ourselves) through a crisis, to come to terms on a deep level with (our) own shortcomings, and to labor to overcome them — is exactly…” what is needed to achieve uncommon success (New York Times). Here are some reasons you should not be afraid of failure.
Don’t let the fear of losing be greater than the excitement of winning. Robert Kiyosaki
Mistakes Lead You to Answers
Perhaps one of the most intuitive reasons to not fear failure is because mistakes can lead you to valuable answers. Success can be very iterative. Henry Ford stated it this way: “Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.” Perhaps, there is no better illustration of this point than Thomas Edison’s journey to invent the light bulb. He reportedly persisted through 1000 experiments that didn’t work. He framed the process as learning a thousand ways to not conduct the experiment. Another interesting example is Alexander Fleming, the scientist who discovered penicillin. When he left his lab in August for a family vacation, he was not expecting for the cultures of staphylococci that he left on the bench to have differential growth patterns. One culture became contaminated with fungus, which killed the bacteria immediately surrounding it. This coincidental observation led him to purify the bactericidal substance within the fungus. That’s when he realized that it could kill a variety of bacterial pathogens, and the rest is history. While in no way am I diminishing his, Edison, or Ford’s brilliance, but trial and error coupled with serendipity were certainly key factors in their successes.
Clearly, failure represents opportunity and growth, not deficit and loss. Fred Tracy
Creativity Inspired by Pain
Creativity doesn’t necessarily come on demand. It comes by inspiration. Sometimes that inspiration is born from pain associated with failure. For example, with over 36 million albums sold, pop star Kelly Clarkson obviously knows a thing or 2 about making music that resonates with her fans. However, she recently indicated that her new boyfriend was ruining her creativity. After all, it is hard to write heartbreak anthems when you are happy. She quipped “I’m trying to write a tough song, and it is coming out like butterflies and rainbows.”
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Of course I’m not suggesting that you deliberately set out to fail, just for the experience (that would be totally sadistic!); however, you shouldn’t avoid taking advantage of opportunities because of the possibility of failure either. If Alfred Tennyson never was tremendously grieved by the passing of his beloved friend, he would not have written In Memoriam, a collection of poems often cited as some of the greatest lyrical poetry ever written on grief. His masterpiece has comforted countless others dealing with the loss of a loved one. By limiting the possibility of failure, you may be muzzling your own creative voice.
Build Resolve from the Struggle
Another reason to not fear failure is because of the performance character it builds within you. Perhaps this point is best illustrated by looking at the school system. The old adage is “school is a place where former A students teach mostly B students to work for C students.” The underlying premise is that academic success doesn’t seem to translate well to real world success. David C. McClelland wrote: “Researchers have in fact had great difficulty demonstrating that grades in school are related to any other behaviors of importance – other than doing well on aptitude tests…It seems so self-evident to educators that those who do well in their classes must go on to do better in life that they systematically have disregarded evidence to the contrary that has been accumulating for some time.” As Sarah Scott accurately pointed out, “high school grades were never designed to assess the qualities that make you a success in the working world (Huffington Post).”
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Thomas Stanley research supported these statements, as he found the average millionaires in his cohort had a high school GPA of 2.92 on a 4.00 scale (N=715).1 Robert J Sternberg further argued “nevertheless, between 75 percent and 96 percent of the variance in real world criteria, such as job performance, cannot be accounted for by individual differences in intelligence test scores.” The point is very clear: those who are successful in the real world possess intelligence that isn’t adequately captured by school grades or standardized testing.
We must recognize that “character is at least as important as intellect. Angela Duckworth
Increasingly, we are learning that creativity and performance character (zest, optimism, emotional and social intelligence, and most importantly tenacity and self-control) play key roles in real world success. Unfortunately, even when we recognize that performance character attributes are lacking, we dare not mention this fact at the risk of offending someone or hurting his esteem, especially in academic environments. The very actions that we use to protect someone’s feelings places him at a disadvantage, as he is becoming ill-equipped to deal with difficulties. We need the struggle, “some challenge, some deprivation… (to) overcome, even if just to prove to (ourselves) that (we) can (New York Times).” When we are inoculated from failure, we harm ourselves. A staggering 93% of millionaires stated that the most important lesson they learned from school was: “hard work was more important than genetic high intellect in achieving.” Notice, that speaks to tenacity and self-control not intelligence. Tenacity is 1 of the top 2 characteristics most millionaires learn during their school days. Thus, by refusing to take chances, we may be robbing ourselves of the capacity to thrive during hardship. We are missing the opportunity to build our performance character.
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I submit to you to embrace the journey to become more. Don’t discount the tremendous value in the struggle, even if that struggle is to achieve, maintain, or regain success. Otherwise, you are embracing your fear of failure and diminishing your opportunities to make mistakes that lead to subsequent victories, enhance your creativity, and develop your character. When you have an opportunity to “go for it” or to “go home, will you risk failure to achieve extraordinary success or to be complacent with mediocrity?
…there is no way to completely eliminate (failure) because…the same circumstance that presents the potential to fail also serves as a gateway to the opportunity to succeed. You cannot close the door on the former, without also closing the door on the latter. Jonathan Fields
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