No one likes to talk about when they have failed. Most of us strive for success in everything that we do, ignoring our past mistakes or worse berating ourselves when we don’t reach the pinnacle immediately. We are schooled into a ‘winners’ mentality from an early age and thus we sometimes allow ourselves to let fear get in the way of trying, of taking a chance so as to save ourselves from a possible misadventure.
Truth is, we all need to allow failure. It is part of our journey. In fact, as one of the most successful men in the world, Sir Richard Branson, so eloquently states, “there is a fine line between success and failure…(if you have) failed, you would have had the best education of your life”. “My teams and I do not allow mistakes or failures to deter us. In fact, even when something goes wrong, we continue to search for new opportunities”
Failure is our teacher and we need to welcome its lessons. Babies fall when learning to walk learn through trial and error where to place their feet, how much tension and pressure to place in order to hold themselves upright and to then move forward. We need not be afraid of what our past has shown us, more we need to focus on how it can light the way ahead. We need to fail and have the tenacity to push forward to be able to experience what it is like to succeed.
Matthew Weiner, writer and executive producer of AMC’s Mad Men, knows this only too well. In the book Getting there: A book of mentors by Gillian Zoe Segal, Weiner describes how he went from feeling the “most useless, worthless person in the world” to becoming the writer of what is now recognised as one of the most successful television shows on the planet. How? He acknowledged that failure was part of his journey. “An artwork is a finished product, and it should be, but I always swore to myself that I would not hide my brushstrokes.”
Behind the scenes of Mad Men, season 2, Christina Hendricks and Matt Weiner. Photo: Carin Baer, courtesy of AMC
Failure can be packaged differently depending on the individual. Be it financial loss, artistic rejection, relationship breakdown, etc. It takes courage to bounce back from such adversity, but the important thing to remember is that in the words of economist Tim Harford: “Few of our own failures are fatal”. You will survive them and they will make you stronger.