Can You Fail Your Way To Success?

Some years ago, the idea that “failure is your friend” gained some traction after someone very much like me who had failed in the tech industry numerous times made it a popular mantra. A conference called “FailCon” was started and was a popular as a place for people who were actually quite successful to get together and brag (like all tech conferences are).

I really don’t remember who coined this phrase (and I don’t feel like looking it up right now…maybe one of my readers will remind me?), but I’m sure it’s a very successful person … probably a white man … who sort of failed a little bit and then leveraged his substantial privileges to gain greater wealth and fame.

Sometimes, though, wealth and fame don’t come from failure. You can try to learn something from it, but more often it’s crippling and leaves you struggling emotionally, financially, and then physically for years.

What do you do when you take risks and try to do something hard and then it completely flops or goes wrong? What do you do when this becomes a recurring pattern and you suspect that people around you doubt your abilities and would rather that you just give up?

A million pop songs and movies would tell you to keep trying and to keep banging your head against the wall. Popular culture and media in the U.S. reinforce the idea of successful entrepreneurs as heroes, and ignore the ones who try just as hard and fail. Failure is not your friend, and anyone who tells you differently is just trying to make a buck or to make you feel better.

This is the part of my email where it turns into an uplifting message of hope.

Maybe you’ll get past the failure. Or, let’s say that you never quite do. Maybe you did learn something from the experience, or maybe you really didn’t because there’s nothing to learn from it or you don’t want to acknowledge the lessons that are to be learned.

How am I doing with the uplifting part?

I’m not sure that I have an uplifting message this time, except to say that it’s a miracle that any of us even exists and has the capacity to fail at things and then keep on going. The fact that most of us are at least partially failing at what we try to do a substantial part of the time makes us members of a much bigger group than the people who can afford to look back and see failure as their friend.

The best thing I can think of to do is to honestly share my thoughts and experiences with friends who may empathize or offer words of support. We all tend to retreat from failure and we’re attracted by success. But, once in a while, it’s good for us to be reminded that it’s the ones who are struggling or who have tried something that didn’t go right or who are having a hard time who really need our attention!