Why I Love Failure

By Jon F. Merz

When most people talk about career goals, dreams, wishes, etc., they only talk about success. “Won’t it be great when I finally achieve this goal?” Or “won’t it be wonderful when I finally meet my perfect soul mate?” Our society is fixated on the idea of achieving success – so much so that kids who play sports are routinely rewarded with trophies and ribbons and medals even when they lose. “That’s okay, hon, even though you lost, you’re still a winner.”

Well, no. They’re not. At least not yet.

Part of the problem when we discuss the notion of success is that it immediately puts the notion of failure in a horrible light – as if failure is to be avoided at all costs, shut away in some dark closet and never spoken about in public. After all, if we’re focused on success, why would we talk about failure?

Here’s the thing: failure is actually awesome. It is by failing that we achieve our greatest successes – provided we have the endurance to weather the failure itself. If we fail and then get depressed and stuck in a rut of self-doubt, then failure can be truly debilitating. But if we embrace the failure for what it is: a sign that we have not yet reached our goal or performed up to standard and that we have a ways to go before we can stand triumphant, then failure is a fantastic motivator and an excellent waypoint indicator on our path to success.

I’ve made some of my greatest breakthroughs in life by failing – repeatedly. In recent years, my big breakthrough with ebooks came as a direct result of failing at selling any of them. I heard all about Joe Konrath selling thousands of copies each month, got annoyed and jealous and called him out on his blog. After talking and asking him to critique my efforts, things came up and delayed the critique so instead of waiting, I went back and looked at what I was doing wrong – where I was failing – and what Joe was doing right – where he was succeeding, made the changes and the rest has been history. I now sell thousands of copies of my ebooks each month as well. (Joe (and others) now sells tens of thousands of his ebooks, which only acts as a motivator for me to do even better…)

My business partner Jaime Hassett and I are still dealing with failures when it comes to getting THE FIXER TV series off the ground. We started this project in November of 2007 and have met with tons of people to back the project. Some of those meetings have yielded fruit, and others have been outright failures. Some of the more exasperating failures come as a result of dealing with idiots who say they want to get involved and then either back out or create some sort of insane drama to extricate themselves from the commitment. You honestly would not believe the stories we have to tell about our meetings; one day they’ll make for some fantastic entertainment. In the meantime, every new failure brings us right back to an intense appraisal about what we’re doing and our goals, as well as where we might have screwed up along the way. But as many times as we’ve failed so far, it only drives us even harder to be successful. And we will be very soon (news on that front is coming up, so stay tuned!)

The point is that failure shouldn’t be stigmatized as much as it has been. Failure is a fantastic generator of ideas and creativity. Okay, so we failed here, how do we make sure we don’t make those mistakes again? How do we get around this problem and achieve what we set out to do? I love talking to people who have repeatedly failed throughout their lives and not given into the temptation to quit and settle for less than what they dream is possible. Their stories are incredibly inspirational and motivating. And failure for them is something they wear as a badge of honor rather than as a scarlet letter of shame.

Nowadays, kids are routinely rewarded for failing, which I think is a dangerous trend. I understand the idea behind it, certainly, that it’s tough on a kid to lose and well-meaning parents want to cushion the blow to the ego, stem the insecurity, etc. But it sets a unrealistic expectation that will plague them as they grow older. And that is they will naturally expect everything they do, every activity they undertake, or every dream they have to be a walk in the park. We’ve all heard the stories of the college grad who didn’t get the job he applied for and had his mommy call up the employer and bitch them out. This is the notion of entitlement that arises when failure is improperly framed within a child’s mind at an early age.

The better technique for introducing failure to a child is to take them aside when they do fail, or lose a game, or perform to a lower standard, and teach them how they can look at the experience and take away from it the lesson on how to do better. Instead of slapping a trophy in their hand and telling them how great they are for losing, there’s nothing wrong with telling them the truth: “You didn’t do so well today. Why do you think that happened? What can you do to be better the next time?” You can cushion this talk by pointing out things they did well even though they did fail.

Our nation – indeed, our world – needs to produce a generation of kids that grow up understanding the critical role that failure plays in moving society forward. Failure isn’t an end point; it’s a new opportunity to get it right the next time through. Success only comes about as a direct result of failing – often many, many times (paging Thomas Edison…) – but not giving up. Failure, when coupled with an enduring spirit, is the surest route to achieving the success we all crave.

GORUCK CHALLENGE UPDATE

The daily runs are back on. I’m also doing the 60-day Insanity workout and Crossfit WODs. Today’s run was an exercise in pain and dealing with intense humidity. Good livin’!

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