Coming to accept failure

Photo by Brenda Lin

One thing I have learned in my time at Georgia Tech is how to really fail. Before my time here it wasn’t even an occurrence I could fathom much less think that’d I’d be experiencing regularly. Failed projects, failed papers, failed classes the list goes on now and it will continue to go on because that’s how I felt that I’ve truly grown. I can say that failure has been one of the better professors for me in college, as it’s been able to show me countless times that what I’ve been doing to accomplish some problems just wasn’t right and would never work.

To quote one of those cliche motivational  viral posts we’ve all seen online “If you’ve never failed, you’ve never tried anything new.” One can’t help but see the truth in the statement when citing famous examples included in the post.

Those like Albert Einstein who wasn’t able to speak until he was almost 4 years old and teachers said he would “never amount to much” but would go on to become a world-renowned theoretical physicist whose theory of relativity is one of the two pillars of modern physics. Or Steve Jobs who at 30 years old was left devastated and depressed after being unceremoniously removed from the company he started but would later come back to that same company as CEO taking the company to new heights. Or Oprah Winfrey who was demoted from her job as a news anchor because she “wasn’t fit for television” and would later go on to have her own talk show that’s success would evolve into her own media channel and network.

Although I also believe that not all of us will be in that small percentage of people that become world renowned for their success, because of the absolute and often uncomfortable truth is that some people are simply going to fail and there’s no way around it.

That last statement may also be a part of the problem, but believe me I’m working on it. Attitude influences behavior and I’ve seen it in my own reactions. One of the biggest aspects of my life I’m still working on is maintaining a consistent positive attitude. The kinds of failures I’ve been talking about have a way of putting me down and keeping me in the worst moods because of self-criticism mostly. I’m sure I’m not alone but I’ve seen how it affects my everyday interactions negatively and regret it more times than not as it’s neither healthy for me or making positive changes.

The best way I’ve seen it described is as a learning experiment as the experience of failing will continually force you to examine what exactly you’ve been doing wrong and taking different approaches to the same problem until you find the success you seek. At that point recognizing your own failures is the biggest triumph and will help in the future to bring about possibilities of succeeding to new levels.

Ralph Heath, a managing partner at Synergy Leadership Group and author of Celebrating Failure: The Power of Taking Risks, Making Mistakes and Thinking Big said described it very well. “Failure and defeat are life’s greatest teachers [but] sadly, most people, and particularly conservative corporate cultures, don’t want to go there,” he said. “Instead of choosing to play it safe, to fly below the radar, repeating the same safe choices over and over again. They operate under the belief that if they make no waves, they attract no attention; no one will yell at them for failing because they generally never attempt anything great at which they could possibly fail (or succeed).”

I guess my main point to anyone reading this is to not let the fear of failure hold you back from making decisions to  move forward with your own future.

As my fifth year at Georgia Tech is winding down and coming to the fact that I’m leaving school with no real idea or plan for what’s next, I’ve already accepted that it’s ok. It may be another failure on my part in some way I’ve gone through the last couple of years, but my goal is to keep working to figure out what I want from the future and what decisions I can make to move toward that regardless of the outcome. Though I definitely identify with anyone else out there that just doesn’t have life figured out yet, we’ll be alright and get it at some point and the fear of failure will not hold us back from it.