5 Ways to Fail SuccessfullyIf you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something … Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, do it. Make your mistakes next year and forever. ~Neil Gaiman
There’s a story about a ceramics teacher who, at the beginning of the quarter, divided his class up into two groups. The first group was told that their grade would be based solely on the quantity of their work and the second group, on quality.
At the end of the quarter, contrary to what one would think, it was the first group that received the higher marks. Why? Because every day they churned out pot after pot, trying out new things and quickly learning from their mistakes.
On the other hand, the second group was so hyper-focused on creating that one theoretical perfect pot —planning and analyzing every little piece — that in the end, they had little to show for their efforts.
Most of us are very much like that second group of students — obsessed with getting things right. We’re taught it as kids in school: Wrong answers mean bad grades, mistakes being the difference between winning and losing.
We’re programmed to pursue the straight As, the top college and the high paying job, developing in us a sensitivity to criticism and judgment.
Then we become afraid to try new and unfamiliar things (often the things that actually matter to us), concluding that we’re not smart, strong or good enough to be successful at it.
I’m the first to admit that I put off writing my blog — the one I’ve fantasized about starting for years — because I lacked the expertise, time, network and writing chops I thought I needed. I was afraid of falling flat on my face.
I still am. Every day I have to put great effort into looking at my work through a scientific lens — as a constant feedback loop of writing, sharing, learning and iterating — and not as an attack on my identity.
So how do we undo our years of programming and find this “fail forward” mindset?
1. Acknowledge the Fear
For the most part, we don’t much think about our motivations behind what we think, say or do. We rarely get into the weeds to unearth what it is we’re really feeling.
We have to ask better questions. What are we afraid of? Fear that people will hate your script? That you don’t have the qualifications to get the job? That people will think your blog is a waste of time?
2. Do Something New & Uncomfortable
This is an exercise in getting accustomed to taking action, making mistakes, getting used to discomfort and reminding yourself quickly and often that mistakes are not things to be avoided.
Success is preceded by lots of messy failures, terrible ideas, bad art and botched efforts. So go take a salsa class or an improv class. Talk to a stranger. Draw a self-portrait and share it on Facebook.
Try a language learning program. Learn the ukulele. Be bad at something.
3. Be Curious
Curiosity provides energy and excitement. It gives us the power to experiment and grow. Kids explore all the time and it’s wonderful to watch.
Sadly, we don’t try very many new things, and we are the first to talk ourselves out of exciting ideas and opportunities because of all the “shoulds” in our lives.
Next time an interesting idea pops into your head, spend an hour exploring it just for fun.
4. Test the Waters
The reality is, most of us are not in a position to drop everything and set off on our own personal hero’s journey. We have jobs, obligations and mouths to feed.
So don’t look at it as this massive goal. Instead, approach it as a series of small steps — actions that you can start today.
Want to write a novel? Sit down and write for 30 minutes.
Want to be a veterinarian? Volunteer at an animal hospital once a week. Interview a practicing veterinarian on life on the job. Read a book on basic animal biology.
Go ahead and explore the things you think you might want to pursue.
5. Don’t Give Up
I saved the most obvious for last, only because we hear a variation of it every day. Failure is not a dead end street.
Yes, it stinks and it hurts and makes us question our intelligence and abilities. But if you can learn from it, keep moving and creating every day to find and do what you love, you will get better.
Success begins in the mind. I remind myself of this every time I sit down to write, share a new blog post or ask for help. I know that my blog isn’t perfect. I’m certain that parts of it are downright bad.
But I know that if I keep showing up every day to put words and sentences together the best way I know how, my blog will upgrade from “decent” to “good” to “really good” until it becomes my something great.
And that is something worth chasing.