The Impermanence of Failure

As I grow, I'm learning to try new things.

I do it, even though it makes me uncomfortable, and there is a slight chance of failure. I do it because the prospects of success attract me. I do it because I want the experience of doing it, making choices I've never had to deal with, and interacting with new people.

This is the kind of experience that I rarely get in the classroom. A situation where I'm confronted with real decisions to make with the risk of me being wrong. I can't tell you why this excites me, but it just does. 

I'll post about what I'm doing in future blogs, but for now, I want to focus on failure, how schooling has warped our idea of it, and why the risk of failure is important to me. Let's start by asking the question:

What is failure?

The loss of X amount of dollars? Getting stuck at a job you hate for X amount of years? Wasting X amount of time and emotional capital on a toxic relationship?

I define failure as not trying hard in something that I wanted to do well in. I count failure as not even attempting talking to that girl, not even attempting that exercise, or not even attempting to get better at least a little bit everyday.

Are failures permanent things that hold us back? Or can we view them as tests that help us learn something and actually benefit from? Society has molded us to believe that failure is:

  1. Bad,
  2. Permanent, and
  3. Irreversible.

But in most places in life, failure is only temporary. Asked a girl out and got rejected? You weren't with her before and you aren't with her now. Nothing has changed. At least you didn't die. Applied for but didn't get the job you wanted? Learn from it and apply for the next one. Spent 6 months building a business that wasted time and money? Put it in your portfolio and use that knowledge to build a better business or explain to an employer how you learned from that experience. 

The only places where failures truly feel permanent? Schools and jails.

In no other setting or environment do failures stick with us so hard. Failing a course creates this false idea that we will never be able to catch up with the kid who's been getting A's for life. We think that this makes us unsuccessful, a failure.

Jails provide a more extreme version of this: when you get labeled a criminal, you lose voting rights, employment opportunities, and become alienated from friends and family. This is even worse if you were convicted on a non-violent crime, such as smoking weed.

But a non-violent jail sentence shouldn't have a permanent effect. And neither should a bad grade. These are the only situations where failures are allowed to stick with you.

Let's do away with these notions that failures are bad things. Let's disrupt the school system so that failures can never be a permanent thing. Let's correct the criminal justice system so that non-violent offenders' lives are not ruined after one "failure".

You can live your whole life afraid of failure, or you can learn to embrace the temporary pain and learning potential that comes with each real life failure.

For those outside of the school and the jail system I think that the more you grow up, the more you realize failure isn't as bad as you thought it was.