The only failure is failing to learn
While listening to our priest’s sermon during Mother’s Day, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of father I might be, if the calling ever comes. I wondered whether I would be a demanding father, never accepting failure from my child, or if I would be more like my own father who didn’t focus on failures, but instead encouraged me to try harder. I resolved in my mind that I might be a mixture of both, but in a good way.
I had the brilliant idea that there’s only one kind of failure in life. You may give up on an endeavor, or you might be defeated by someone more capable, but you only fail when you don’t learn from your defeat.
Growing up, I had to deal with a lot of failure caused by both my lack of patience and my low self-esteem from my weight. For example, in high school, I gave up on 4 years of elementary school football experience because I couldn’t hack the summer training camp. I regret not participating in a physical activity through high school, but looking back, it wasn’t a total failure.
In 2006, Stacie wanted to run a marathon before she turned 30. Knowing my penchant for failure at physical activities, I cautiously volunteered to sign up and train/run with her. I never ran more than a mile before that day, and our first training run at a local track was, shall we say, painful and embarassing. But I didn’t quit. I ran that 26.2 mile marathon and finished. And I plan on running another one in 2010.
See, the thing I learned from from giving up in high school was that I did have the physical potential to succeed, but I needed the mental fortitude to push myself harder. So when I began training for the marathon, I let my body do the work while the true battle was in my head. After 5 months of training hard, I recall more of the mental fights than the physical pain.
Just like I’ve trumpeted learning from your mistakes many times on this site, I also suggest looking back on what you consider a failure and determining what you can learn from it. In college, I interviewed for dozens of post-graduatation jobs, but only got 3 offers for site visits, and only 1 job offer. But I didn’t get totally down on myself because I tried to learn from each interview how I could do better on the next.
Since I now have a great job, a good home and an awesome wife, I’m able to look back on all my defeats in a different light. I can see that each perceived loss was really a gain because it changed who I am today to be a more confident, capable and mature person. When something at work or home doesn’t go right, I now look at it more closely to figure out what went wrong, then try to avoid repeating my mistake or using it to accomplish the task better the next time.
So when you think you’ve failed at a task, consider that you’ve only really failed if you absolutely cannot learn from the defeat and thus cannot find a way to improve yourself. You’re allowed to get down on yourself (it’s only human to do so), but don’t dwell on your loss too long. Quickly review what you could have done better or differently, or what deficiencies you had, and try to grow that piece of yourself.
Comment back and tell me what challenges you’ve faced, learned from and how you’ve become a better person!