“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Taking risks, or pursuing your goals is something that is so important. I have touched on this several times in my blog, especially directed at my generation, millennials, and for young women. I find that success is often deliberate, regardless if luck, faith, or a blessing, had a lot to do with it, no one is successful from just sitting around doing nothing. But it’s long over due to talk about the challenges that you will face as you take risks in different areas of your life. And sometimes these challenges are small like hiccups, but let us not forget that life’s biggest challenges are also known as failures. These challenges are on a whole different level; more like a combo of swine flu and pneumonia. That’s right, completely and utterly debilitating.
There is no denying that we will all experience failure, some are more familiar than others. I remember this idea in church, that if you’re not living right, the devil isn’t really trying to mess with you. When you’re walking down the path of righteousness it’s not going to be paved in gold and the path is filled with bumps and jagged edges because the devil is trying to throw you off track. I believe this is true in our lives as leaders, followers, employees, managers, friends, lovers, mothers, and fathers. Failure hits every part of our life, and how we deal with failure makes all the difference. Well, apparently, our generation is avoiding it like the plague, unlike generation X. “They” are saying that we need to fail a little more, and love it.
The millennial generation is taking a page out of the early baby boomer generation’s book: Don’t fail. A mantra of the older generation was to “follow the rules, avoid taking risks, and don’t fail”. “In fact, managers were once expected to be infallible, deflecting the blame when problems arose’… “young Boomers famously rebelled and adopted a risk-taking spirit—which their business leaders began applying on the job when they took over.” (source) These actions had an effect on the generation Xers that created cyber boom tycoons like Mark Cuban.
So as generation Xers are aging, and millennials are graduating, moving into new roles, and dominating the workforce, many would say that we need to take more risks, and go a step further and fail while we’re at it. However, based on the state of the economy, we’re kind of listening…. but not really. “More millennials are unemployed than any other generation. Despite the national unemployment rate dropping below 6 percent, the unemployment rate for millennials remains stubbornly high at nearly 12 percent”. (source) Can you blame of us for looking for security? I don’t even need to list the stats on education loans, millennials have more than any other generation, ever.
The economic downturn happened within the last 7 years, but there has been an overall push for “embracing failure” since the turn of the century from commencement speeches to conferences that endorse failure as a part of the career process.“An NPR analysis of popular speeches going back to 1774 identified “embrace failure” as the sixth-most popular theme (outranking platitudes like “be kind” and “dream big”). Of the 38 speeches with this theme, all but three were delivered after 2000—by the likes of J.K. Rowling, Oprah, and Ben Bernanke”. (source) And based on the “startup failure’, there was a conference started in 2009 called FailCon. Last year, FailCon’s founder cancelled the conference “out of the belief that failure is now so ingrained in Silicon Valley culture that a conference is unnecessary”. (source)
So there are a lot of people telling us that it is okay to fail, and that the more you fail, the better you will become and your future is a little brighter… blah, blah, blah. It is easy to become skeptical listening to Bill Gates, Oprah, and Mark Zuckerberg go on and on about how failure made a difference, because what good does that really do for you? Many stories of success come from people who failed and THEN were successful. Wouldn’t you love to hear stories in the midst of the struggle? That would be the realist stuff you ever heard. Raw, blunt, and oh, so matter of fact. But the reality is nobody really hears the stories of those who are failing while they’re falling except themselves. Sometimes we have to learn to listen to our own stories in the midst of the struggle, and only from that place do we find the inner fight to move forward.
This is what I call appreciating failure, and learning the benefits it can provide. We can’t appreciate someone else’s failure. Appreciate means more than being grateful and understanding. After a mistake, whether it’s a week, or a year, or years later, we learn from our past mistakes. But appreciate also means to, “recognize the full worth of”. (Source). This idea is more than just learning what we did the wrong , where we took the wrong path, or maybe the goal was really out of our reach. But that there is actually something to learn from failing. To be resourceful, to be able to fall down and get back up, and we can’t learn that from anyone else: we have to learn for ourselves. But we must also recognize that failure happens even with the most well-drawn, organized, and laid out plans. That’s why I would say to some extent, we do have to accept failure , and recognize that it is not the end of the world. You may not be taking that risk, because you’re a afraid of failing, or your thinking that failure is the end of the road. It could be just the beginning.
We can put too much pressure on ourselves to not fail. Let’s think about our kids who go crazy to the point of sickness over their grades or maybe cheat to get into that prestigious school or the young adult who becomes anorexic for the next dance performance, or the athlete who uses performance enhancing drugs. We always want to bash that they took it too far because they did x, y or z to get their end result, but are they not just trying to avoid failure at all costs?
Lately, my favorite comeback stories are baby boomers, who were close to retirement when the recession hit, and had to pick up their life, pursue a new career at a point when they thought their careers were almost over. Whether it’s because they still had kids in school they had to support or were foster parents, their resilience is humbling and refreshing, and reminds me that failure can happen to the most secure of us all. So I have learned to appreciate more and more failure in my life, regardless, if I want to or not, we have become familiar foes, friends, and sometimes best buddies. Failure isn’t always around, there are definitely times when I don’t want him around, but there are times when I need him, because that’s the only way I learn the tough lessons (because I can be hard-headed). Don’t be afraid of failure, you need it to thrive.