I make a lot of mistakes and sometimes I can be a bit of a dumdum. It happens to the best of us. I once thought you could grow pickles and I recently found out that there is caffeine in chocolate. I’ve put frozen waffles in the cupboard because “now they were open” and I’ve fallen down the steps for the exact same reason thrice. But I’m not worried. Why? Because I love to learn.
I strongly believe that everything you do, whether you succeed or fail, is an opportunity to gleam something from it. Now there are those that say that failure is the best teacher and that every successful person has to fail in order to succeed. I don’t personally believe that. I think some people never have to deal with the adversity of failure in any serious way. Startup founders seem to use the number of failed ventures they’ve been a part of as some sort of badge of honour. “Oh yeah, well I launched FOUR failed startups before I finally got one off the ground and in the black.” I disagree.
I was once having a conversation with my pal Jonny Stevens about failure and we sort of agreed that failure doesn’t teach you anything except how to fail. The problem with learning from failures is that it only teaches you what to do in that very specific situation. So if it’s raining and you’re wearing a pair of crocs, you’re less likely to fall down the stairs. In my case, it took three very solid falls to learn that lesson but this is an example of a situation where failure actually teaches you something.
When I was a kid, I wanted to touch the toaster oven. I don’t know why. It turned neat colours and it made bread weird and it just seemed really awesome. My mom suggested that this was a very bad idea but honestly, I don’t think it mattered what she said. She could have told me that touching the toaster oven would kill everyone I loved and make candy disappear and turn everything wonderful into celery. It didn’t matter. Some people just can’t listen. They have to experience that failure or that pain in order to move forward.
But what does this all mean for someone trying to grow and develop as a person. Simply this. Don’t actively seek failure. There is no inherent value in doing a bad job. There is no guarantee of success simply because you have failed. There’s nothing wrong with getting it right the first time. You don’t need to launch a half dozen failed startups to hit the big time. It’s perfectly ok to get it right the first time.
Instead, when you’re thinking about failure, don’t think about ho great it is to fail. Think about what you’re going to do if it does happen. Don’t let the threat of failure stop you from trying. And if and when you do fail, debrief and collect some takeaways.
I don’t wear crocs in the rain. I know that pickles are a process rather than an object. I know that hot chocolate has caffeine in it and frozen waffles, even after they’ve been opened, still need to be frozen. Now go do something amazing and if you screw up, learn from it. That’s it.