Why we shouldn’t be afraid to fail

March 23, 2013 § 6 Comments

I recently went to a Hacks/Hackers event about ways of funding new, innovative news. While that may have been what the event was about, that wasn’t what I got out of it.

The first speaker, John Bracken who created the Knight Foundation, said that we should “fail early, fail often”.

The following speaker, Stijn Debrouwere who is currently working at the Guardian (I swear, I’m not jealous) talked about his career failures. How he tried to create a new form of CMS – and failed. How he tried to help bring innovation a local paper in Ceder Rapids, Iowa – and failed.

What struck me was the lack of negativity both these men had when they spoke about failure. It was as if failure wasn’t a bad thing. As if failure could be a good thing, a positive thing.

We live in a world where failure is, more often than not, considered a negative thing. Something to avoid. Something to be afraid of.

Not too long ago I was afraid of failure. If you’d have asked me what I was afraid of, aside from the ‘typical’ answer of loosing a loved one, I wouldn’t have hesitated to say I was afraid of not succeeding – a round-about way of saying ‘failing’.

For me, failure wasn’t just about not achieving goals. It was about not having a plan. Not having a ‘road-map’ spread out in front of me, knowing where I wanted to go in life and how I was going to get there.

For years I have made plans for my immediate future and I’ve stuck them. High School. University. Working in London. Masters Degree.

But ever since I finished up one of the rewarding experiences of my life (post-graduate study) things have been a bit up in the air, as the cliché goes. I didn’t get a super-fabulous job after graduating. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that wasn’t going to happen, but that thing called hope kept telling me I was wrong.

Now, I don’t have a ‘plan’. At least not the concrete type I’m used to having. I don’t know what job I will have in three months time. I could be working in a café or a supermarket. I could be au pairing. Or I could have had that ‘breakthrough’ that gets my career on the right track – or at least on a track that is parallel to the ‘right one’.

I still want to write. I still want to be a journalist. I still want to travel and see the world – and combine my love of writing with that. I just don’t know how I’m going to get there.

Not so very long ago that would have scared me senseless. I would have gone into full-blown panic mode. But I’ve realised, that I don’t need to be scared. That sometimes you just need to go along with whatever life throws at you, instead of trying to control it.

In fact, these days, I think that not having a plan, that falling down, that failure can be a good thing. It can make reassess your life, your goals. Make see things in a new light. Make you realise that there are other options out there – ones you might never have thought of before.

It’s a terrible cliché, but that old saying of when life closes a door, it opens a window is so very true. Sometimes we need to stop trying to force ourselves through that closed door and look out the window – because sometimes what’s out the window can bring us great things.

And if I haven’t convinced you that failure can be a good thing, I’ll leave you with the words of someone who is much cleverer that I. Someone who has failed. And someone who has learnt to succeed from their failures:

It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure – Bill Gates.

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