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Failure: The Gift that Nobody Likes and Everyone Needs (At Least, Sometimes)


“I just don’t want to fail.” 

This was a fairly consistent refrain in my brain for a long, long time.  Well into adulthood, the fear of failing got in the way of enjoying so many experiences. Whether it was writing a test, being in an interview, trying a new recipe, or meeting new people, the idea of not measuring up, of not  fulfilling my vision of success (whatever that might have been), would prevent me from trying the experience at all, or from being fully present if I did give it a go. 

In the last week or so, the refrain has reared its head again.  

I am standing on the brink of a couple of new experiences, and the idea of failing has got me all of a dither. Both experiences are significant to me -- they could open up some opportunities that I have been waiting for and dreaming about for a while. So, you know, I’m a bit anxious. 

Here’s what I know from my past experiences in this particular arena -- the “fear of failure” arena: if I allow the voice of fear free reign, I cannot be present to what is happening beyond the fear. Not being present to what is happening will take me out of the experience -- and when I am out of the experience, when I am removed, I am not at my best. Which almost (not quite, but almost) guarantees that I will fail. 

You see, succeeding at anything requires you to be fully present, to give it your all, to be in a heightened state of awareness. In order to be fully present, there’s a bit of a catch-22 at play. On the one hand, you have to be aware of your fear, and to some degree, give it a voice. On the other hand, you cannot let that voice overpower the other voices: the voice of encouragement, the voice of reason, the voice of challenge, the voice of your dream. The voice of fear is only one voice that you can listen to; when it comes to success, heeding it over the other voices is rarely helpful. 

Understand: fear of failure in and of itself is not a bad thing. Actually, fear in general is not a bad thing. I’ve come to believe that fear is what tells me I have something to lose, that I have skin in the game, that I have something at stake. It’s a good sign that tells me this experience is important to me. My responsibility in the face of fear is to take the steps necessary to quiet the voice of fear, and turn up the dial on the voice of my dream, my vision of success, my goal.  

In the end, my vision may not become my reality. Circumstances may be such that I do, in fact, “fail.” If and when I fail, I must translate that failure into learning. In other words, failure doesn’t have to be a stopping point. Instead, it can be a brief pause, a moment of reflection, as you continue to move toward your dream.  

Don’t get me wrong; I know that none of us likes the feeling of failure. It’s disheartening when we don’t achieve or accomplish what we set out to do. That being said, it’s imperative that we neither let fear of failure stop us from stretching into new territory, nor let failure itself stop us from continuing our pursuit for the things that are important to us.  

Bottom-line: failure is going to happen. In light of this, it behooves us to recognize it for the gift that it presents -- a learning moment -- and then continue moving forward toward our goal. Failure isn’t a problem; instead, it can be a gift. Embrace the gift, as difficult as it might be, and keep moving towards your vision of success.