I’ve spoken about success recently and how I perceive it, but there’s another very important concept, often linked to it: Failure. I think we don’t discuss enough how important failure is in our lives. I think somehow there’s an overall misconception that failure is a bad thing. Well it’s not, if you’re failing it means you are trying.
That’s what I truly believe now, but it wasn’t always like that. I didn’t grew up with that belief. In fact I was precisely the opposite. I would never raise my hand in class, I was terrified of being called on in class to answer a question, read something out loud or of having to solve an equation or something else on the chalkboard. The silliest thing is, most of the times I actually knew the answers, but I was terrified of failing.
A lot of teachers love saying ‘there’s no such thing as silly questions’ but the fact is they make you feel quite differently when you ask one. And the questions in my head are always silly. So during childhood and teenage years I decided it was best to keep quiet. Specially high-school which is a particular terrifying time because of all the peer pressure, wild hormones, having to decide if you’re applying to Uni, where you’re applying to, and not being sure you have the grades for it. No wonder I was terrified of failing.
But then something magical happened. I applied to a biochemistry degree (still makes me laugh when I say it) and I didn’t like it at all. Maybe because I didn’t care so much, I started feeling comfortable with making mistakes – I mean I tried, but was definitely failing. I was also fortunate enough to meet an unbelievable group of people who gave me an incredible confidence boost. Somehow you stop being the kid trying to fit in and start embracing yourself. And you start feeling comfortable about failing in front of others.
When I decided to move on to another degree I was much more aware of my abilities, my skills and wasn’t as frightened anymore. There was some self-doubt; accepting to believe that failure is good when you used to fear it more than anything, is a slow process. But once again my confidence rose, I wasn’t as afraid to say silly things – maybe because I met some of the silliest, most intelligent girls (some of whom are my best friends to date) – and I was even eager to do stand in front of the class and present! And I loved it! If would say something wrong I would welcome rectifications or even laugh with the rest of the class (sometimes, it is funny). Slowly I became more me, and embraced the fact that it’s good to fail. In fact I now believe failure is the best teacher.
When I went on to do a master’s degree, I still had some self-doubt, when I got my first job as well, the second job, etc… It still happens sometimes, but it’s ever decreasing. And the more I fail at things, the more I realize it helps me look for the right path, for the right thing for me. One of my favourite people on earth, Oprah Winfrey, said about failure: “What other people label or might try to call failure, I have learned is just the Universe’s way of pointing you in a new direction.” Although I am not religious, I don’t believe in God in the catholic (or other religions’) way, I have some spirituality (I believe in something). So I completely understand what she means, as from every failure I have learned precious lessons that moved me closer towards finding myself and a new direction.
Regardless of the fact of being extremely scared of failure as a kid, I have always had the ability to look at everything as a lesson and always learned something from everyone I meet. The mistakes, or possible regrets, the stories, friendships, bad things, good things – I always chose to learn from it. I like to believe it helps me become a better person. So in a way, failure has been teaching me all along, because I would always take lessons from the mistakes as well. I just didn’t realize at the moment what it was.
I wish we would embrace failure more, and that we would teach kids from young age, how important it is that they fail. Teach them how failure is just another word for trying, and that trying is what will get you there. How if you’re failing it means you are not giving up. After all, as Einstein put it, “failure is success in progress”.
I’ve recently set myself (yet again) in a completely different path, a riskier path and probably full of failure ahead. I am ready to embrace it and to get up again and keep trying. And it’s ever so exciting.
Maybe you’re still not convinced, so I’d like to leave you with a quote from one of my favourite authors, J.K. Rowling: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all.”
So go fail, go live.