Failure (noun): lack of success; the omission of expected or required action; see also: “I’m a…” and “Fear of…”
See that second one, “Fear of failure”? Yep, that’s me. It’s also the majority of the people I know. If it’s you, too, this post is for you.
We need to reframe failure.
There’s something in our society that has convinced us that failure is a bad thing, and made us roll our eyes at motivational speakers who tell us to “Celebrate our failure!” This mindset has made us believe that failure is something to be feared before it happens, and ashamed of afterward, instead of something that is part of our shared human experience.
Maybe it’s our society’s obsession with perfection and that has created this mentality. Maybe it’s our high expectations, or our obsession with “success,” whatever that means. Maybe it’s something else. Though that’s certainly an interesting origin story, it doesn’t matter so much where this mindset came from, or, really, where it goes.
It just needs to go. And we can be a part of sending our fear of failure out the door.
I started thinking more about this after I saw a story about a new Gatorade commercial called “The Secret to Victory,” on the TODAY Show about the unexpected key to success: failure. Take a look.
(Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored by Gatorade, just inspired by it. 😉)
“You really want to know the secret to victory?” “Defeat.”
The ad features professional athletes like Peyton and Eli Manning, Serena Williams, and Atlanta’s own Matt Ryan confronted by what society has deemed “failures” in their lives and careers, from failing to make the varsity team to losing the Super Bowl, to change the way we think about failure.
For athletes, defeat is literally a part of the game; for all of us, it’s part of the “game of life,” if you will.
It’s normal to let the losses, defeats, and failures get you down. And it’s easy to let them keep you down. The secret is not letting them, and that’s the hard part.
When I was growing up, the movie “A Cinderella Story” came out and, like any die-hard Hilary Duff fan of the early 2000s, I loved it.
The movie is exactly what it sounds like, a modern-day “Cinderella Story,” except this time, she loses her cell phone and, amongst other offenses, the evil stepmother has wallpapered over a quote that Hilary Duff’s baseball-loving father painted on the wall of his diner before he died. Finally, at just the right moment, when things seem most desperate, the wallpaper is torn off the wall, revealing the quote and inspiring Hilary’s character, Sam, to keep going.
The quote, of course, is a classic from baseball all-star Babe Ruth.
Though I certainly didn’t go on to play baseball, or lose my fear of failure, this quote always gave me something to think about when the fear of failure started to get in my way…and it still does.
In my senior year of college, when I started applying for “real world” jobs, I applied for what I had thought, for years, was my dream job. I was rejected--I failed hard. I then thought I was meant for something similar, but different, so I applied for the next set of “dream jobs” with the same company, fearing that I would fail again. And I did; I was defeated by all of them.
Then I found the job description for my current position at Girl Talk and, though I was afraid that I wouldn’t get the job, the feeling I had when I read the description made me understand why I had be “defeated” by the first few dream jobs. This one felt like the right one for me. And, thankfully, it was.
I believe that I "failed" because those jobs that I was set on weren't the right ones for me, because there was something that was "more right" out there, waiting for me to discover it. But before I did, it felt like my life had veered off-course.
The perfectionists within us seem to think that if we fail, even just once, our lives will be permanently thrown off-track and we will not be able to accomplish what we want to accomplish, or live the life that we want to live.
I’m happy to tell you that that’s just not true.
Only you have the power to create and control your path. Only you have the power to decide what a "failure" means for you. Your failures don’t have that kind of power.
I’m not telling you that you should never be afraid to fail, or be ashamed when you do, nor am I saying that the fear will suddenly go away or that you should feel “good” about your failures (that would just make you feel like a failure for not feeling good about failing…make sense?).
It’s perfectly okay to fail—it’s normal—as long as you don’t let it define you. Don’t let the fails keep you down or the fears prevent you from "playing the game"--going after your dreams, following your passions, and fighting for what you believe.
Instead, challenge yourself to use defeat as a motivator. It's easier said than done, but take the L, then move on. Keep working and keep trying for future victories, and you’ll start to reclaim and reframe failure and, as Gatorade says, #MakeDefeatYourFuel.
With love and gratitude,
p.s. Feel free to share your stories, struggles, and successes in the comments (or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org), and let me know what you’d like to share or read about—my keyboard is ready and waiting!