Failure feels like walking across hot coals while gargling rocks. Failure feels like you want to kick every cliche about how valuable failure is in the shins. Failure feels like when your first grade teacher wrote “talk, talk, talk” in the behavior section of your report card. Failure feels like after you complete a task and the script immediately running through your mind says you could have worked harder, planned better, done more. Failure can feed the “I am total a fraud” beast. I have written about failure before. I have written about professional failure. I have written about fitness failure. The concept of failure is woven through the fabric of my writing, threaded with leitmotifs of redemption, resilience, and strength.
Today I want to think through an idea that is profoundly important to learning from failure. (I, of course, am writing this post to process another recent failure that I experienced.) Consider. Failure is central to success.
In a gratitude conversation I previously shared on my blog, Seth Godin talks about failure like this, “Well you know, the first 800 book proposals I sent out got rejected. 800 in a row. What I discovered was I was not very good at telling my story. I was not very good at understanding my customer. I was not very good at realizing that I needed to become a partner in an industry that did not like people who were acting the way I was acting. Once I learned those things, which took a couple years, I stopped getting rejection letters. If I had not exposed myself to failure I would still be an idiot.”
This quote makes me think about the connection between failure and success.
Even best selling authors start off as idiots
I can start off as an idiot. That is a comforting thought. It is comforting because it lets me know I don’t have to have all the immediate answers. It lets me off the hook from having to be a genius. Ever. It gives me hope that even if I start off as an idiot, I don’t have to remain one. I can even become a best selling author. Most importantly, failure provides perspective, insight, and wisdom. If I learn from it, my potential is limitless.
800 is not such a big number
800 tries requires enormous resilience, sticktoitiveness, confidence, humility, and fearlessness. 800 tries means you don’t have to be perfect right out of the gate. You don’t even have to be perfect after 500 tries. You probably never really have to be perfect at all. Perfect never becomes the enemy of the good. The older I get, the more I understand the value in simply showing up, again, and again, and again, and again. I can expend the effort and energy. There is a weight lifted when I know beforehand, early on, that it will all take a while, and it will be worth it.
Tell your story
A big part of telling your story is knowing your story. A big part of knowing your story is trying 800 times. Your story is written through trying 800 times. When you know your story, an elevator speech of your project with the cut, color, and clarity of a fine diamond can flow from your lips. Telling your story well invites others to listen and tell others. I have heard from my favorite writing teachers that only you can tell your story. In that, we have a responsibility to tell our story as only we can. Perhaps knowing and telling our story is central to turning failure into success.
Listen to rejection
By listening to rejection, I don’t mean internalizing fear, negativity and doubt. Take time to process, reflect, and digest. Take time to learn what is valuable from the failure and leave the rest. Take time to greet the monkey mind that says “You are worthless,” give it a hug and say, “You are not welcome in my brain. I have important things to do.” Listening to rejection, and making the necessary tweaks and adaptations, turns rejection into a positive fuel for the engine of your dreams.
Partner with others
Partnering is tough. Partnering means vulnerability. Partnering takes time. Partnering means compromise. Partnering means really listening. It is difficult for me to write that partnering is not easy. I love to collaborate. I love people. I value feedback. I write better in a group where writing is a communal effort. Truly. I want to be that extrovert that is a combination of silk and wit and wisdom. I want to be that leader that is so stealth that the people she is leading think they do everything themselves. I want to be that writer whose voice is so clear and personal and individual that everyone thinks I am writing especially for them. Being that person, leader, writer requires I leave my island, try, fail, recalibrate, try, fail, recalibrate, and try as much as it takes to succeed.