Let’s Talk About the F Word (Failure)

young woman turning face away

Failure. (That’s what you were thinking, right?) Failure is a word that wreaks havoc on the nerves, dreams, and ambitions of so many people. Though only seven letters and two syllables, it’s one of the most powerful words in the English language.

For many, the thought of failure is haunting. It stifles their creativity, freezes them in fear, and keeps the competent from progressing forward. On the other hand, some use it as a driver for success. Being afraid to fail can push people to take whatever steps necessary to crush goals, save face, and appear to have it all.

Until recently, I had never personally experienced failure. I remember being in a job interview once where I was asked to name a time I had failed, and I couldn’t answer the question. I sat there for a few minutes thinking, and I honestly didn’t have an answer. (Ironically, I failed at failing).

Thinking back, it was true at that point in time. But recently, my previously smooth path to victory turned dark and rocky as I experienced the first big bomb of my adult life when I completely failed on a project.

Leading up to the pinnacle moment of failure, my anxiety was rampant, and tears flowed freely as I stressed over what could happen.

But despite my incessant worrying, I still failed.

And do you know what happened after I admitted defeat? I realized it wasn’t the end of the world. The sun still rose in the mornings, my husband still kissed me goodnight, and my friends still wanted to get margaritas on Friday nights.

As a newfound failure, I also realized I was in good company as I recalled several stories of famous people rising from the ashes to achieve greatness: Walt Disney was told he “lacked imagination.” Steve Jobs was fired from the company he founded. Oprah’s boss said she was “unfit for television news.” And let’s not forget Edison’s serial lightbulb failures.  

On a more personal level, I’ve had friends who were laid off only to find better opportunities. I’ve seen corporate leaders be demoted, then later asked to deliver keynotes at huge conferences. The stories of failure before achievement are endless.  

But even though we’ve heard these famous stories many times over or watched family and friends’ failures and achievements unfold, the fear of failure is pervasive.

So, here are a few lessons learned that anyone experiencing fear of failure needs to hear.

Failure can be a blessing in disguise. For Oprah, being told she wasn’t fit for television news led her to change careers and become one of the most successful talk show hosts in history. Many people, me included, are afraid of admitting defeat, so they’ll keep hammering away trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole, even if they aren’t happy in their current situation. Sometimes, failure is the only option to get you out of a rut and into a life you can better enjoy.

People will love you no matter what. One of the biggest fears I had as I sensed my impending failure approaching was how other people would view me. Would they think less of me? Would they see me as a failure, too? Would they talk behind my back and gossip? What I found was that people really didn’t care. Just because one part of my life didn’t go the way I wanted it to, it didn’t cause anyone to love me any less. Same goes for you. You are more than your list of accomplishments. People want to be around you because of who you are. And who you are is human. People who truly love you will continue to love you no matter what.

Sometimes you need to refocus priorities. As I grappled with my deteriorating situation, it became the center of my attention. But as the walls came tumbling down, it made me realize I was putting too much emphasis on one area of my life. I began taking steps to create the life I wanted to live with priorities distributed evenly across a gamut of areas, which has ultimately led to greater fulfillment.

Finding myself on the other side of failure has caused me to deeply reflect. What I viewed as a worst-case scenario has, in many ways, turned into a blessing. So, I can’t help but to think that not all failures are negative. Instead, we should consider failures course corrections for our life. Just imagine if Walt Disney had never been fired from the newspaper. There would be a lot less magic in this world.

So, next time you find yourself down and out about failure, be like Edison and keep trying until you find your light. 

Article By Emily Arnold

Emily is the communications manager for a global tech company. You can find her on the weekends playing fetch with her goldendoodle or visiting U.S. national parks with her husband. 

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