by Victor Salinas
When I was younger I was absolutely terrified of failure. A lot of times I wouldn’t even try to get out and do things because I didn’t want to mess up. I didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of everyone.
To an extent, I still am afraid of failure. It’s only natural to want to avoid it. To want to win. But experience has shown my that failure is actually a critically important life process. The most important one, in fact.
It may not sound encouraging at first, but I want to tell you that you will fail. You will stumble. You will make mistakes. I’m about to burst your optimistic bubble and give you five reasons you should fail.
I want you to hit the dirt. Sink to the lowest you’ve ever been. And after you’ve been there, you can rise back up again, stronger than ever.
It’s the Fastest Way to Learn
There is truly no better teacher than making mistakes. It’s only through trying and making mistakes that you find out what works and what doesn’t.
I once taught myself the basics of web design in just a single month. When I started off, I didn’t even know what HTML was, let alone what it could do. (If you had asked me, I’d have thought it was a droid from Star Wars). When I finally set aside my fears and excuses, I picked up a few books on HTML, CSS, and PHP. I studied day and night for a week. I thought I had it all figured out.
Man, was I wrong.
After the first week I sat down to design my first webpage. It was a disaster. It looked like my cat had laid down on the keyboard and had randomly typed a bunch of code as it slept. But I didn’t give up. I kept going. I failed, and failed, and failed. Tweaked that bit of code. Added this one. Took that one away.
I spent a hundred hours or more trying to design a test website. No dice. It still looked like shit. So I kept going. I kept making mistakes. Each time I tried something new I failed. But I learned something. I wrote down what I was doing and quickly found where I was going wrong.
After four weeks of these grueling, self-inflicted, masochistic exercises, I could do it. Without spending a single minute in a computer programming class I could design basic websites in three programming languages. (Albeit the simplest of them.)
Failing is the fastest way to learn.
It’s Also the Cheapest
Continuing with my last example, failure is also the cheapest way to learn. In a classroom, you might spend thousands of dollars being lectured in an insulated environment. Your teacher talks, you listen (eventually falling asleep), and then you are tested days, weeks, or months afterward. It’s a test of your memory, if nothing else.
Learning by doing (and failing) is quick and cheap. You learn in real time as the events unfold.
A professional web design course would have cost me hundreds or thousands. Teaching myself cost me about $40 for the books. (I could have gotten the same info for free online… but I’m old-fashioned like that.)
Failure takes time, not money.
Failure Makes You Tough
If you ever want to do great things in life, you’ve got to have the nerves. And let me tell you, winning all the time doesn’t make you that way.
I had a friend who always won at games. He would boast and brag to everyone about how good he was. He’d challenge everyone in sight, usually only people he knew he could beat: weaker players. It made him feel better about himself. He felt invincible.
He won at everything until he met me. We played Magic the Gathering (the card game). I crushed him. He got super pissed and challenged me again and again. We played five games and I won four of them. (The fifth one ended with my opponent having only 4 life left.)
All his boasting, bragging, and winning made him weak. He didn’t know that I had played Magic for over 14 years. And during those 14 years I got my ass handed to me. Hundreds of times. But each time I got smarter, and tougher.
Continuing to fail and sticking with it made me look forward to challenges. Not hide from them.
After that event my friend never challenged me to a game of Magic ever again. Not surprisingly, we stopped being friends shortly thereafter. I bet he’s back to “winning” again, today.
It Also Makes You Humble
This is another lesson my friend could have used. Be humble. If you are used to winning your ego gets inflated. You overestimate your capabilities and you get yourself into trouble.
Only by failing and realizing you’re capable of making mistakes can you be humble. And appropriately cautious. I remember those five games of Magic and one of the ways I beat my friend. I lulled him into a false sense of security. He was overconfident and I took advantage of it. I made him feel like he had the upper hand by appearing weak and defenseless. I played into his ego.
And then I brushed him aside with ease.
Failure has made me humble, too. I’ve bragged to people about something I could do, like hiking a certain distance. I remember telling my camping buddies once that I could easily hike 30 miles in one day, through the rain, and not stop.
Well, one day that happened. We were camping and it rained and I decided to push a two-day journey into a one-day journey. I made it about 18-20 miles before I gave out. It was raining and my feet were blistered and chafed. And they bled. And my friends laughed because I had made myself out to be the Chuck Norris of backpacking.
I was humiliated. But I was humbled. And nothing could have done that but failure.
Failure Doesn’t Mean Defeat
Of all the reasons you should fail, this last one is the most important. If you’ve failed before you know there’s still a tomorrow. So you lost some time, maybe some money, and got made fun of by other people. But the sun rose the next day and you were given another chance.
Failing makes you realize that winning isn’t everything. That it’s not only okay, but necessary to make progress in life. If you’re used to failing, you attain courage. You’re not so afraid of making mistakes. You will actually take the chance to do something great instead of just sitting home on the couch and wondering “what if?”
So go out and fail, my friend! Get up right now and start writing that manuscript you’ve been talking about for years. Pull out that canvas and break out the paint and start working on your next masterpiece. Don’t let fear, or doubt, or criticism from others hold you back.
Learn to love failure and soon enough, you’ll know victory.
Victor Salinas is a long-time fan of many fantasy and sci-fi series including the Lord of the Rings, Dune, and Star Wars (his all-time favorite; he dares you to test his knowledge!). He currently lives in the Washington, D.C. area. with his wife, cat Dorado, and giant collection of nerd memorabilia.