Failure is Learning

Failure is a tough subject for most of us. From the time we're young children, we don't like to be told "no." I think many of us find it just as difficult to tell others "no" as well. Failure, rejection, disappointment, and shattered hopes are unpleasant things we'd rather not discuss or think about, thank you very much. However, during my career as a classical musician and real estate agent, I have come to be best friends with failure and have learned to embrace it. Why?


We fail only when we have an opportunity in the first place.

Failure is the result of two important and happy things: 1) opportunity and 2) effort. It is fantastic to have opportunities! If we have no opportunities, we'll never fail since we've never even had the chance to make an attempt. We should embrace failure, because with every failure it shows we have access to the sine qua non of success: opportunity. 

Failure is the most potent catalyst of growth.

If we are expending effort toward our goals, then we're actively learning and growing. It sounds like a bunch of "feel-good nonsense," but failure is the best method by which to grow. Failure and success are really just different aspects of growth. Success tells us to "stay the course" because whatever we're doing seems to be working. Success makes us feel good, but it can also be dangerous since it can lead to complacency which slows growth. Failure makes us feel bad, but it can tell us that what we're doing isn't working and can spur us on to faster growth. We gain a deep understanding of what works and what doesn't via failure rather than success. The danger inherent in failure is that it can lead to discouragement, and may even make us quit if we decide that our goals are impossible or not worth the growth required of us.

Failure encourages creativity.

Sometimes, goals are impossible to achieve either intrinsically or due to circumstances. Some of the greatest people in history desired to accomplish an impossible task, and in the midst of their failure to accomplish that task, ended up making huge discoveries or amazing progress toward their goals. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but failure is the mother of creativity. The search for a western passage to India from Europe lead to the discovery of a new continent (new to Europeans anyway). The failure to create an anti-malaria machine lead to the development of air conditioning. The failure to create a more efficient refrigerant lead to Teflon. Velcro was invented by a guy who couldn't get the thistles out of his clothing! There are many examples of failure leading to some other kind of unexpected success.

Don't feel bad about saying "no thanks."

Standing on the other side of failure, it is always difficult to have to tell someone you don't like them, need them, want them to do anything, want to hear from them, etc. I suppose that is why people don't like to take sales calls or interview several people for an opportunity.

Recently, I had the experience of hiring a contractor to help me renovate my house. I called several people and asked them to give me competing bids. I chose one of them, and called the others to inform them I wouldn't be needing their services. Some of them were more than a little bit angry. I felt awful for having to inform these guys that they didn't get the job. Several complained loudly and left me messages asking me to re-consider. No wonder people just go with whomever is recommend by friends or family! Who wants to go through this process of rejecting people?

I submit offers every day and am rejected a huge majority of the time. I understand that no one owes me any work at all and I understand it is entirely the prerogative of the person doing the hiring to choose the person they think will do the best job for the right price. I am so accustomed to hearing "no" it almost sounds good to me now. I would rather hear "no" dozens of times per day than never have the phone ring or the inbox fill up at all.

If I'm hearing "no" then I can learn, and it means that I've at least had a chance to compete. I don't have any contempt whatsoever for the person rejecting me, and would hope they aren't afraid to tell me exactly why they hired someone else. In fact, I am very grateful when people do tell me what my competition is offering that I am not.

"It's not personal, it's strictly business."

Michael Corleone references to one side, this is good advice! Unless we're talking about dating or relationships (certainly outside the scope of this blog) we shouldn't take rejection or failure personally. You're not failing because you as a human being are no good, but because you failed to communicate your value to the employer, or someone else offered something better. Fortunately, we can each increase our personal value by growing our abilities and skills, and failure can be used as a tool to help us learn and change. Failure is not something we should avoid, but learn to appreciate while on our journey of development.

Jay Villella