What is amongst the most common things we say to the people we love and care about?
It’s not “I love you” or “I care deeply about you”. This would be nice but these words are taboos in our world. Instead, it is the proverbial “be careful”.
These two words – be careful signify our care and concern for those around us.
Yet, I think that these two words are the worst piece of advice we can hear. Why? Because if we optimize life for avoiding failure or for avoiding “bad things” happening to us, we voluntarily freeze ourselves where we are.
In the last ten years of my life I’ve learned many things and I’m grateful about all of them. Yet, one of them, the most important lesson is also the one that’s hardest to comprehend. This is that failure is a normal and necessary process required in order to achieve anything.
We associate so much pain and distress to failure that we see it as the worst case scenario. Yet, failure happens, not as an outcome but as a process. It is quite natural and most importantly, it is impossible to avoid.
I wish I could say that I’m smart enough to win from the first time. No. In most things I do, it takes time, it takes failure, it takes iterations and many trials to get what I desire. Yet, emotionally, this is so hard to accept.
Think about your childhood. Think about school and your relationship with your own parents.
I don’t know exactly how your childhood was but for me, failure was a big thing. I was never encouraged to fail. Actually, I was severely punished in many ways, mentally, emotionally, even physically for failing.
If I took a bad grade, I took a beating. If I tried at something and I’ve failed I had to face the ridicule of my parents, laughing at my efforts and at my attempt to even try. Quickly, I’ve developed a tendency to be risk adverse, in other words, to avoid anything that involves a risk.
I stopped trying.
If I didn’t even attempt, I couldn’t fail, right? If I didn’t attend the test paper, I could surely not get a bad grade. If I didn’t attempt playing sports, then I couldn’t have my all female class laugh at me right?
This belief, this tendency to avoid failure, to become risk adverse is the most soul crushing thing you can do. This is unfortunately where most people are, not because they’ve rationally decided to avoid failure and risk (most people do understand that failure is a given and a constant of life) but rather, because they’ve developed Pavlovian responses to criticism and failure.
We all have people in our life who induce an obscene fear of failure in us. Some of them are well intentioned. Others are not. Some are simply jerks who make fun of us for failing because they make fun of people failing. Everyone’s a freakin’ critic nowadays. Others are trying to protect us from pain by being overly protective and encouraging us with affection and care to not take risks … but achieve the same results, even worse.
They make us freeze.
They make us stay in place, afraid to venture onto the open sea.
This is why we fail. We fail because we afraid failure. We fail because we’re not willing to take the risks of pain (and the pain that will automatically come) that comes with doing anything worthwhile.
Let me give you an example.
When I was young, I wasn’t quite the lady’s man. I had friends who made sure to remind me each time I’ve failed in a romantic relationship or a date or even a social relationship. I’ve had friends who reinforced my belief that I’m not worthy enough.
So after a few failed relationship (my first relationship ever, she decided to break up with me after two days and be with someone else and my second was about the same) I’ve decided that nobody wants me.
I’ve saw myself as the ugly duckling that’s always going to be single.
I’ve stopped going to places where I can meet significant others, I’ve stopped dating, I’ve stopped even considering the idea of romantic relationships.
This lasted for a few years and I think that between the age of 16 to the age of 19, I’ve been single. Three years. No love. No affection. No sex.
So when I’ve started dating again (by people who assumed that I’m naturally attractive and interesting to the opposite sex and never acted like I was going to fail), I was surprised by the results. I was expecting things to fail for me but instead, I’ve got into a relationship with a girl four years older then me. Then I’ve entered a relationship with a girl that was a dancer … I’ve had a fling with a book author and media celebrity … a ballerina … an extremely smart girl with a body to kill for … a well known entrepreneur and many more.
I’m not saying this to brag.
I’m saying this because based on my self image and my risk adverse approach to life, these things would have been impossible. Not unlikely. Impossible. In my mind, I’ve grew up with the belief that even the girl with the worst personality and physical looks would reject me so I’ve stopped trying. Dating girls that were not only beautiful but also smart and successful was kind of saying that a nerd can date the prom queen.
And all of this happened in the moment I’ve opened up myself to the possibility of failure. I could have stayed in my little personal space and not gamble anything, not risk rejection, not risk pain but I’d probably be the 27th year old virgin if I’d do.
Or I’ve simply took a chance and it worked. I’ve been rejected but at the end, I’ve got into very happy circumstances, way above what I was even expecting to get.
The entire example is more about self-image psychology than being failure adverse so I’ll end this example now and I’ll tell you a piece of advice.
Society conditions us to fear failure. There is nothing worst than getting a bad grade or losing your job or being rejected based on what most people think.
And this is why most people are not successful. News flash but about 80% of all people live lives of quiet desperation. This doesn’t mean that 20% are millionaires and are driving Porsches and flying first class but I estimate that only two out of ten people are truly happy and fulfilled.
There is no way whatsoever to avoid failure. It is simply a part of the process. It is not something different from achievement but rather, an event that happens on the road to achievement. Failure is like putting gas in the car. You need it because otherwise you won’t get to your destination.
Most people will never take chances.
Most people will never take risks.
Most people will try to convince you to do the same.
And without chances and risks, you can’t advance. You can’t learn to walk without being willing to fall a few times. You can’t learn to be happy without taking the risk and accepting that life is painful sometimes. You can’t succeed entrepreneurially without accepting that losing money is a part of the game and nothing can mitigate this risk.
In order to hit the ball, you must be willing to strike out many times. And that’s how things are supposed to work. That’s how nature works. Nature is in a continuous process of adapting and evolution. Evolution works by embracing failure. What doesn’t work is eliminated, what works is kept and life moves forward.
I don’t like failure. I don’t think anyone does. I don’t think that being embarrassed, feeling disappointed, feeling let down, feeling betrayed, feeling treated unfairly and many more are emotions we can easily embrace.
But I know that in the alchemy game of life, satisfaction is part feeling disappointed and part getting your way. I know that failure acts as a catalyst to success and that without it, there can’t be that reaction that makes things happen.
I have a dozen of ambitious goals. I know I’m going to stumble and fail many times. I know that nine out of ten times, what I’m doing may not work. I know that many times I’m going to feel like I’m trying to fight windmills.
Yet, each failure still progresses me forward. I learn what not to do. I get some progress, maybe not the one I fully desire, but I still do. Getting the third prize may not be the first prize but it is a lot better than not participating. So is life. Failure is the bronze medal when you want the gold medal but it is surely a lot better than being a spectator.
I can’t give you a formula for success. I don’t think there is such a formula. I can give you a formula for progressing and if you progress enough in any goal, you’ll succeed. This formula is to set a goal and to constantly adapt and move forward towards this goal despite any evidence life may show you. It is to close your eyes to feedback that tells you that what you’re doing is not working because if we use short term feedback to determine our direction, we’ll end up giving each time. Yes, you need to adapt, go right or left, be dynamic in your approach but anything you do must be seen as a step forward the goal you desire.
The trip of 1000 miles is done one step at a time. If you do one thing right now and you haven’t got to your destination, then you understand how natural this is and how strange it would be to expect otherwise. If you are in London and you want to land in Washington, you don’t expect to step out the door and wake up in front of the Potomac river.
You get dressed, get your passport, go to the airport and so on. Each of those steps get you to your destination. Well, so is life. Each step you take gets you closer to your destination but you can’t expect that the next thing you do to give you your outcome because that would be impossible. The next thing you do is a step forward, even if you’ve looked like you’ve failed.
You may find this strange but in the grand scheme of things, the next thing can be being demolished by life and having nothing left because this is the path to getting to where you want to be. You can’t judge your path by success or failure because goals are by nature complex plans that take many different step to get there.
Or to give you another example ….
… imagine you’re mining for gold.
You get your pick axe and start hitting the wall. Each time you hit that wall, you get closer to what you desire. You don’t expect to hit it one and to find a fillet of gold. You don’t expect to hit it once and wake up in a penthouse, a millionaire. You hit it again and again until you find goal.
So is life. You hit it, you keep moving forward, knowing that each and every single thing you do is another “hit” into the wall that separates you from what you desire. You can get what you desire or you may not but it is still progress. Progress is what is important to winning goals and progress exists no matter if you make a huge breakthrough or you’re not. At the end of the day, it is still progress.
Sales people know this.
They know that if 1 in 10 people convert by average and one sale is $100, then just need to make 10 calls in order to get there … that each call is worth $10 no matter if it sells or not. They know that as long as they pick up that phone and start pitching, each time they dial a prospect, they get $10, because the progress itself averages to each particular step.
Learn from sales people. Each step you take averages towards the progress of your goal. Sometimes you may feel like you’re flying and sometimes you may feel like you’re crawling but you can’t get to level two before you finish level one. You can’t get to the fifth floor and make major progress if you don’t struggle at the fourth floor with a lot of failures. The process of achieving goals is rather linear and the lesson is always the same …
If you want to get from A to Z, you must go through B, C, D and so on. Some of these steps will be triumphs where everything works just fine. Others will be failures where you feel you haven’t accomplished anything. Yet, when you connect the dots, any outcome you get is exactly the same – progression.
And that’s what makes great lives.