Use Your Failure as Fuel
Failure is not evil. Failure may be inconvenient, failure may be humiliating, but failure is not malevolent.
Failure [ feyl-yer ]
an act or instance of failing or proving unsuccessful; lack of success.
His effort ended in failure. The campaign was a failure.
Failure is not evil.
Failure may be inconvenient, failure may be humiliating, but failure is not malevolent. Failure is natural. Part and parcel with the human experience. And how can anything natural be evil?
The definition above is wrong. Failure is not a lack of success. That’s far too narrow. Failure is a stepping-stone to success. A prerequisite. Perhaps even one of its most vital components.
Think about something you’ve accomplished. Something great. The first thing you remember is collectively how hard it was. The trials and tribulations. The constant battling. How you were this close to giving up but then, somehow, you found the strength to keep going, to keep pushing towards the summit.
The second thing you remember is the failure(s) along the way. Not completing that marathon the first time. Being passed over for that promotion at work. The girl of your dreams telling you no when you laid your heart bare.
But you eventually won. In spite of it all, you won.
Here’s how to make our failures work for us, to ascend higher than we ever thought possible.
Take the time to learn from your failures
Failure hurts. Failure hurts a lot. As such we look to distance ourselves from failure as quickly as possible. We want those feelings to leave us alone.
Resist this urge.
Instead, lean in. Ask yourself the tough questions. What could I have done better? What did I miss? What harm did I cause, to myself and others? Asking the tough questions is to take responsibility for your actions. Taking responsibility leads to maturity. Maturity leads to growth.
You screwed up. Own it.
This won’t happen overnight. You won’t realize the scope of your failure one day and have all the answers the next. You must be patient. Learning is a process, and the process must play out from beginning to end.
Realize failure frees you from fear
I built a mobile app a few years back. It provided users a quick and easy way to track their workouts in the gym, along with giving them suggestions for their next set. The digital equivalent of a personal trainer.
I put every ounce of energy into the project. I happily endured 12 hour days and marathon testing sessions. I was focused, I was driven, I was certain. I built an intuitive, stable product that solved a common problem. The app launched on a Tuesday afternoon and I was on cloud nine.
It went over like a lead balloon.
Sales were meager, eventually slowing to a trickle. Customers were fickle, only screaming about what the app couldn’t do. I blew through my entire marketing budget in a month trying to light a fire. But the wood was soaked through. The project sagged on for another few months until I was forced to take another job to pay the rent.
I’ve never been more demoralized in my entire life.
Yet here I am, at it again, with In Fitness And In Health.
Failure is the best fuel because it’s forged from desperation. I know what failure feels like, what it sounds like, what it tastes like. I’ve stared deep into failure’s smiling face. And I am truly desperate to avoid seeing him again.
In the presence of desperation, fear dissipates.
I am not afraid to try again because if I come face to face with failure, with his smug, pompous smile, I will smile back and be on my way.
I am not afraid to try again because I am in love with the process of building something new, something valuable, something worth doing. My bones ache with desire for success on my terms, no one else’s.
I am the Archangel Michael, wielding my flaming sword against the dark.
I’ll leave you with Frank Herbert’s “The Litany Against Fear” from his acclaimed Dune series:
"I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."