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Day 9 - Don't Be Afraid to Fail

Level 14

In a 2013 interview with Smashing Magazine (https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2013/12/berlin-designer-interview-benjamin-dauer-npr/), NPR Senior Product Designer and Lead Product Designer at SoundCloud Benjamin Dauer said,

“Don’t be afraid to fail. Challenge yourself at all times, and learn from every experience — good and bad.”

Of all the advice that I've heard, of all the advice I could give, "Don't be afraid to fail" is the single most important lesson we can learn in every part of our lives. Accepting failure is a profoundly humbling experience, and it begins with acknowledging that we cannot know everything, nor can we always make the right choices for any given situation. Deciding that failure is an option allows each of us to accept failure in others. Instead of viewing mistakes as limitations, we can begin to recognize them as an exercise in discovery.

I once heard a story of a man who traveled a road toward home only to arrive at an unfamiliar fork in his path. Unsure of which direction to take, he opted for the road to the right. After a few miles of uncertainty, he arrived at a dead-end. Turning around, he drove back to the fork and took the road to the left. His son, sitting next to him, complained about the detour and the delay. The man smiled and responded, reassuring his son, "We had two paths to from which to choose. Having traveled the wrong path, we can be sure that we are on the right path now."

When I began my career more than 20 years ago, I saw people that seemed to always make the right choice. They knew things I didn't know. They were able to find opportunities that I could not seem to find. They embraced uncertainty with a confidence I could only dream of possessing. Here’s what I now realize: They made mistakes and made them often. They didn't know everything and often had a very limited scope of knowledge of the extremely broad field that is IT. And those opportunities? They came because they pushed themselves into unfamiliar situations.

How do I know? Because I walked that same path. If someone had told my 21-year-old self, who was then commuting 50 miles each way to work as a support technician for a small telecommunications company in Michigan, that I would work from home in Canada's smallest province for one of the largest companies in the world, that I would also operate a successful freelance consulting practice, and, best of all, that I would be Canada's only SolarWinds THWACK MVP, I would have told you that it was impossible. But my family and I embraced failure, and we did fail as I pursued my education and career, but we learned from our experiences.

To my younger self, in whichever multiverse you exist and have yet to take those first steps, don't be afraid to fail. Always be learning. Push yourself. You've got this.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to my friends, colleagues, and fellow THWACKsters. May 2019 be a year of courage to accept failure for exactly what it is—a challenge to learn something new.

34 Comments
Level 15

Well said! Thanks for spending your days failing with me now .

"Arrogant people are non-learners. They invest their energies in maintaining a cozy feeling of complacency, and complacency is the biggest single enemy to the process of continuously learning from experience. Arrogant people are exactly the sort of people who are destined to have one year's experience 20 times rather than 20 years' worth of experience."

- Peter Honey

Level 14

We are encourage to fail.  We work in an integration environment.  Failure is going to happen.  Just document it so you don't repeat it.

Level 11

Wow you talked about the exact situation I am in right now. I am trying to get a promotion to manager and I have been thinking the same thing that everyone else knows the answers but me, and I won't be able to do it if I got there. No one is perfect and you need to try even if you may fail. Get back up and try again but take a different path. Don't doubt yourself, if you have the confidence you can learn it.

Stack the odds in your favor as best you can and leap.  You may succeed or you may fail and try again. 

But to not risk is to never gain.

I can proudly say that I have failed... many times. So many times. OMG! Sooo many times. There are no problems here with fear to fail. I am comfortable with failure.and I am able to move on. It has become part of the process. Many times failure isn't solely my responsibility (I am a manager, mind you) so I have learned to take it in stride, identify the positives and keep moving.

MVP
MVP

Great observation, don't be afraid to fail. Fear of failure has crushed so many people. Yes, failure is scary and hurts, but it also builds character, skills and fuels growth. One of the biggest things in my life that helps me get past the fear is to have others in my life that have my back. People that will allow me to succeed or fail and still stand by and encourage me. Encourage doesn't mean cheer-lead or agree, but help me be my best and always move forward - even in the face of fear! Do you have those people in your life? If so, be thankful and build more of those friends, if not, get more involved in the communities (physical and social) and build those friends.

If you aren't failing on e in a while you are not trying hard enough. Innovation requires risk. Risk means there is a possibility of failure. If you aren't willing to risk failure you aren't innovating you are implementing. As in your story, recognizing that you have made a mistake and cutting your losses, instead of pressing on stubbornly,  is essential for continued success. To expand your parable,  imagine that instead of turning around, the father decided they should abandon the car and proceed on foot after reaching the dead end. Which then led to more troubles and bad decisions. But he pressed on, unable to admit mistakes. Sometimes organizations fall into this trap because they are afryto cut their losses and continue to throw good money ey after bad.

Level 11

I think Einstein said it best, when he said the definition of stupidity is when you continue to do the same thing over and over, and expect a different result.  Failures happen, accept it, and own it.  But most of all learn from it, that way you and others dont have to make those same mistakes again and again.

Level 14

What an encouraging article for folks like myself that tend to be apprehensive and always opt for the least risk route.  Thanks for writing it.  I can learn from this!

Level 10

Great poem that I keep in my my memory in times  like this:

'Tis a lesson you should heed,

If at first you don't succeed,

Try, try again;

Then your courage should appear,

For if you will persevere,

You will conquer, never fear

Try, try again;

Once or twice, though you should fail,

If you would at last prevail,

Try, try again;

If we strive, 'tis no disgrace

Though we do not win the race;

What should you do in the case?

Try, try again

If you find your task is hard,

Time will bring you your reward,

Try, try again

All that other folks can do,

Why, with patience, should not you?

Only keep this rule in view:

Try, try again.

Failure without growth is just disappointment, and you've got to push through that and turn your lowest points into your greatest memories. I'm blessed to work at a company where failure is seen as progress, it's something I'm sure not to take for granted. If we're not failing, we're not living!

Level 13

No one is perfect. You are going to fail at something.  Learn from it and move on.

Level 10

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”  -RFK

Failure is not an option, its the outcome.   I played sports growing up and the humility it teaches is second to none.   Failure is part of life and its how we recover from that failure which shapes us into who we will someday become.   Many tears were cried over lost baseball games, football games, track races, and injuries.  at the end of the day, i knew i had to live with myself, so i didn't cheat.   I also learned i always had my team to help me up when i felt too wear to get up on my own.  We are never truly alone.   

Level 14

When I was young and just starting out on my IT journey I was absolutely terrified of failure.  If I failed at something they would fire me and then where would I be.  As I got older and slightly wiser I realised that I could never succeed in the incredibly complex world of IT unless I failed a few times.  After all, you only really learn from failure.  Succeed every time and you start to believe too much in yourself.  When the eventual failure comes you will really crash.  Frequent (well not too frequent) failures which you learn from and move on will prepare you for the really big one and you will be able to overcome that too (or even spot it coming and take the correct steps to mitigate it).  Of course, if you fail to learn from your mistakes, you might have bigger issues.

Level 9

"Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently."   Henry Ford

"Success and failure are both part of life. Both are not permanent."            Shah Rukh Khan

Level 9

Success and Failure are both good and bad.  You learn from both and both can lead you astray.  You have to understand and realize this when dealing with either.

Level 9

Thomas Edison was once asked by a reporter how he felt about 1000 failed attempts to make a lightbulb. His reply was that he had not failed, he had simply discovered 1000 ways not to make a lightbulb.

Failure can destroy you or teach you, but which it does is up to you. If you choose to learn from it, you will be greater, if not, you will have failed in truth. So much of failure and learning from it is in perspective. Change the way you look at things and every failure is simply a lesson in how not to do that thing. Get up, dust yourself off and keep going.

Level 20

Here's to winning "Biggley" Josh!  We've got this!

Level 12

Learning from your past failures is crucial.

Level 9

I once asked a boss where I could find a feature in a piece of software I was only somewhat familiar with. I idolized this guy, I thought he knew everything. I then watched him bring the software up and go through every option until he found it. I lost no respect for him and learned an important thing; fail until you succeed.

Level 10

If at first you don't succeed, keep on sucking till you do succeed.

Level 10

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Level 14

Failure is good. It teaches us that we are human. Nobody is perfect. Failure moves us forward. To dwell on failure is to forget the positive aspects of what went wrong...

Onward... Upward.... forward!

Level 11

Wow! So many things popped into my mind while reading all the posts.  First off, well done, jbiggley and nicely thought-out.

Someone has already mentioned Frost's "The Road Not Taken" in another thread but that is one my favorite poems of all time!  And your allusion to it is superb.  One thing my wife and I do sometimes, if we are out and about, is take a lesser-known or unknown route home.  Sometimes, oddly, that happens even if we don't intend but either way, we say, "It's an adventure! And as long as we are together, it doesn't matter how or when we get there.".

Then there's your allusion to something of which I remind myself constantly: I know everything because I know I DON'T know everything!  That is the beauty and the paradox of life.  One will NEVER, EVER, EVER know everything and to those who come into my life "thinking" they do, I just smile and nod, all the while saying to myself, "Yep, you'll learn!"

Another thing I've learned is that there is never failure, there is only learning.  Failure has acquired such a negative connotation in Western culture, and I might say the world, but if we look at the situation and ask ourselves, "OK, what did I learn?  What did I learn?", we stand a chance of coming out the other side better for the pain.  Blair Singer has a great series out on "Little Voice Management" and in it, he gives his listener some great advice.  If one finds oneself going down the road of "hitting oneself over the head with the proverbial hammer", Blair says one must IMMEDIATELY (if not sooner!) verbally, out loud yell "STOP!"  This breaks the pattern of negative behavior and allows one to re-write the outcome.  Yes, it takes practice and discipline, but it can help.  Then, Blair advises folks to do what I mentioned earlier: Ask yourself, "What did I learn?  What did I learn?" over and over and over until something good pops out.  And if you say to yourself, "Well, you learned that you're a ID10T!", say "STOP!!!" and start again, because none of us are ID10Ts.

rwagner​ brought up my other thought, that being of Edison and how he found a thousand ways to NOT make a light bulb!  Reframing supposed "failure" into success can give us the courage to keep going, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

Excellent thread, everyone!

Level 8

Allow yourself to fail - it can be fun and rewarding.. That's why I still snowboard..

You spend so many years of your life being averse to failure and building a record of success that it begins to feel less natural of a process.. embrace this and enjoy it!

As long as I try to fail in all new ways, I am fine with it

MVP
MVP

DON'T BE AFRAID TO FAIL - that's an excellent saying, if I am afraid to fail I never even would get to know my true potential.

Level 12

In American culture fail seems to be a dirty word. Nobody wants to fail or be labeled as a failure. But those failures are teaching opportunities from which we learn the lessons that will bring success.

I have worked with overseas technicians who come from a culture where a failure means a job loss. I feel sorry for them; they will never do anything great because they will not take the risks necessary.

MVP
MVP

For any non-MVP's reading this. Take note that all of us MVPs have failed at some point. We've used that to grow, learn more, and gain experience.

And we still occasionally fail.

Level 12

You are bound to fail but the outcome is the most important thing

Level 13

So true.  In my younger days I got to the point where I was a really good skier (most people thought I was some sort of pro). They often envied the way I could handle all the different terrain, and I used to tell them if you aren't falling you aren't learning anything. Most people never understood that.  If you're trying to learn, grow, get better - at anything - you will inevitably make mistakes.  It's part of the process.  Just don't take a mistake as a failure but learn from it and use it to grow.

Level 9

At first I thought it said to not be afraid to fall... and dangit I'm always afraid of falling. Failing, on the other hand... there is always another path, and perhaps it hasn't been discovered yet. And if it's not a successful path, you can usually walk back the other way.

About the Author
Husband and father. Live on an island, remote worker. Data Storyteller, Data Geek, bibliophile. Life is good.