I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of failure, the word itself has such a deep emotional attachment to anyone who comes across it. Perhaps it sparks a childhood memory of disappointment, or maybe a current situation that you are certain will end with the word “failure” somehow being the main player. Or it’s someone on the outside who doesn’t share your values and can’t seem to fully envision the passion that you pursue daily. In all aspects of the word “failure” we identify ourselves as not worthy, unable to make the mark, someone whose attempt will be overshadowed by another whose success will be celebrated in the face of what you couldn’t do. The harsh reality of this world is that failure is a part of life, and it’s unfortunate really that failing at something is such a “bad” thing. We’ve learned to fear failure, and for many it limits our ability to make strides and march forward for fear of what could happen. Instead of risking the loss of something we stay in place in order to keep feeding our fragile, undernourished egos while dismissing what could be accomplished if we were brave enough to risk failure.
History shows us that some of the most successful people—past and present—used failure to drive their life mission forward. Steven Spielberg was rejected by the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts multiple times. Sir Isaac Newton’s mother pulled him out of school as a boy so that he could run the family farm. He failed farming miserably. But went on to become one of the most celebrated scientists of all time, revolutionizing physics and mathemati
cs. Thomas Edison’s teachers told him he was “too stupid to learn anything” and Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting, “The Red Vineyard,” just months before his death. And as popular as JK Rowling’s books are, her pauper to fame story is just as amazing. She was a single mom living off welfare when she began writing her first “Harry Potter” novel.
These people were just people living their lives like you and me. They barely made ends meet and they lived their lives with routine and struggle, but underneath the banalities of living they were empowered with a self-defined passion. Whether it was painting or writing, science or film, these passions colored who they were. They took hold of their loves and allowed that which inspired them to live through them. You see, when you have a tiny spark of a passion burning quietly, it’s still a fire—not yet a big one, but it’s still a fire. They fanned those flames and marched forward, at times through a drenching rain that tried to wither a very personal dream. Yes, I’m sure they felt terribly alone at times. Who else would really care whether or not they succeeded? When you fan a passion flame alone, you’re climbing upstream, against the nay-sayer current and the irony is it’s the nay-sayers that make you swim harder. Whether or not you realize it, the obstacles and roadblocks put in your way serve as a guide. Don’t go this way; do go that way.
Too often we allow our passion to take us, but only so far. Maybe a knock or two and we’re out. Why do we do this? Because as humans we are conditioned to want success right now. We’re a bit lazy. Ideas flow freely in our head and we ask ourselves questions like, “what if I did this?”, “what if I took a leap and changed jobs?”, “I could write that book!”. Failure, that ugly word, holds us back. Like a blinking red boardwalk sign blocking your path to the beautiful, fathomless ocean on an otherwise perfect summer night.
The solution: face the failure and find it. If you don’t bring yourself to just the edge of the failure cliff or beyond, you won’t know what it feels like to dust off and keep moving forward with new-found knowledge and insight. Failure makes us strong and disappointments make us stronger. Anything which holds your heart deeply also requires skinned knees to finish the next 25 miles of the marathon. I have a sign in my home that reads, “Great things take time to grow.” Th
at’s all it is. Time. It’s a daily re-commitment to what you set your eyes on. You don’t need to know the full outcome of what you are trying to accomplish. Rather, keep working on it and notice when things come to you! Those things will come to you! Instead of seeking out, be open to receiving. And someday you will wake up with the finished painting and realize you still have many more days of living a fully enriched life where you can produce more because, well, you allowed yourself to be a failure.