Failing Doesn’t Mean Failure

A lot of us — probably MOST of us — are afraid to fail. Failure hurts, either physically or mentally, and our brains obviously try to guide us away from pain and unpleasantness. But that also means, in an awful lot of cases, that we also don’t TRY. We anticipate the failure, even though it’s never happened to us, and doing so impedes our ability to grow and succeed.

Despite the popular belief, kids’ minds aren’t really like sponges. That all starts to fade at about age 5, when the prefrontal cortex starts to really develop. What kids lack, and gain only with time, is a fear of failing.

Failing is the very essence of learning. If you do something over and over and over and never fail at it, you’re not actually learning. That is, you’re not necessarily changing the structure of your brain. You’re perhaps reinforcing existing structures (specifically, synaptic connections between neurons), but you’re not creating new ones or changing existing ones. By definition, then, you’re not learning or changing or growing.

Failing does not make YOU a “failure.” That’s a hugely important concept, and this week I’d love it if you did nothing else but think about that a LOT and really embrace it. You can fail all the freakin’ time, and still not be a failure. You’re only a failure if you repeat the exact same failures over and over and over. If you’re not repeating, then you’re learning. You’re growing.

Yes, sometimes failure can hurt. Fail to fill the car with gas and it’s an inconvenience; fail to pick the right stocks and you could go broke. But most of our day-to-day failures aren’t all that bad. They’re not epic decisions that will change your life. So whatever new thing you’ve been thinking about — perhaps something that’s on the road to your success definition — give it a shot. Fail at it. Examine why you failed. Learn from that, and try again.

YOU aren’t a failure. Well, unless you never TRY. Not trying is a big failure.