I first learned to love failure through skateboarding. To be a great skater you have to be willing to fall, and to fall a lot. Even the most skilled skaters fall. The harder the trick, the harder the fall is likely to be. Another interesting thing is that aborting a trick often results in a more painful fall than if you completely committed. In many cases there is no way to perform a trick without serious risk of falling, so total commitment in the face of near certain failure is key. Here’s the interesting part: Skateboarders respect fellow skaters who fall hard and keep trying. Consciously or subconsciously, they recognize that a hard fall is usually the result of total commitment, and that commitment is something to be respected. Looking back on my many years of skating, I can remember countless times where I repeatedly fell hard and never actually landed the trick, but felt great satisfaction nonetheless. In fact, I actually enjoyed falling regardless of countless cuts, bruises, and broken bones. Was I crazy? Did I like hurting myself? No, I just intuitively understood that commitment is something to be proud of, regardless of the outcome.
It’s important to note the difference between failure with commitment and failure without commitment. It’s equally important to recognize the difference between failure and disinterest. I recently gave a talk to a group of high school students and asked for an example of a time they had failed. One student raised her hand and said “I failed at running.” She explained that she was required to run in gym class and that every time the teacher would turn his back, she would stop running and walk. When he turned around, she would resume running. She explained that since she wasn’t trying to improve as a runner, she had failed. I then asked her “do you want to become a better runner?” As I suspected, she didn’t. This is not failure, this is disinterest. When we mistake disinterest for failure, we do ourselves a disservice and risk dealing a crippling blow to our self-esteem. Few people truly excel at things that don’t interest them. When you don’t achieve a goal, it’s important to differentiate between disinterest and failure, and to be honest about whether you really gave it your all. You can do this by asking yourself a few questions, and answering them honestly.
Most of us see failure as a bad thing, as something to avoid at all costs; however, per our new line of thinking, we can attach a new meaning which serves us better and builds us up instead of tearing us down. We can develop this new meaning by recognizing that failure means that
• You committed
• You were brave
• You tried do something difficult
• You’ll probably do it better next time
By combining these statements, we can now state that when you fail, you are a brave person who committed to learning to do something difficult. This sounds pretty good to me, and certainly sounds like something to be proud of. Now when you fail hold your head high, because failure due to commitment is worthy of respect.
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