Since you were young, you’ve been shoved into a society that has given failure a bad rap. From elementary school onward, you were taught how to succeed—to make good grades, please your superiors (i.e. your teacher, parents, etc.), and arrive promptly on time. If your report card had more A’s and B’s than C’s and D’s, you were golden. If you used your crayons to meticulously color within the lines, you were seen as a budding genius. If your parents weren’t called into the principal’s office on a weekly basis, LOOK OUT WORLD! We’ve got another average kid who’s primed and ready to be a cog in the machine!
Basically, if you conformed to the system growing up, you were seen as having a shot at “making it” in life. Then after 18 long years of being coddled, spoiled and given an achievement award for everything from tying your shoes to solving a routine algebra problem, you get dumped out of the schooling system and into reality. And guess what? Reality knocks you on your ass. It’s absolutely nothing like the institution you’ve just spent the entirely of your life figuring out. It’s like suddenly taking the rubber bumpers out of a bowling alley and painfully watching your ball drop into the gutter time and time again.
Let’s be honest—growing up in an environment cushioned by invisible safety nets on every side, very few of us properly learned how to “bowl”. (I can speak from experience because I am a terrible bowler.) You thought you did, but when the rubber bumpers came out, you quickly realized that your skills were no match for the course. And watching those pins remain mockingly erect and motionless while your ball clunks into the gutter for the umpteenth time is too much to bear.
So what happens? You get a job! And your employer quickly replaces the rubber bumpers, reinstalls the safety nets and reinstates the use of grades (a.k.a. yearly evaluations). Now you’re set for life, right? You can strike down every pin with ease. Success at last!
Not so fast. Unfortunately, our failure-adverse society is a perfect breeding ground for mediocrity and unhappiness. No one wants to fail, yet this go-to-college-get-a-great-job-retire-with-money-in-the-bank version of success isn’t necessarily what makes you happy in the end like you thought it would. There’s something else that your heart yearns for and it isn’t hidden in the pile of work on your desk that keeps getting bigger.
When I graduated college with my (expensive) engineering degree, I wanted to (1) fly to Spain for the summer and hike the Camino de Santiago, and then (2) move to San Francisco and start a photography business. I thought that I could start my career by becoming a photographer’s assistant, building my portfolio and then eventually going out on my own. While contemplating my California dream that summer, I received an engineering job offer to move to Kentucky and design color laser printers.
What route do you think I chose? Well—you probably guessed it—I followed the straight and narrow path. I conformed. I got the cushy job, benefits and started saving for retirement like my new colleagues. Nothing wrong with that EXCEPT that I wanted to be a photographer in California.
When I decided to quit my job years later, I realized it was much scarier to quit when you’re in the middle of it than if I had never started at all. I’d had definitely gotten used to the rubber bumpers in my life and the thought of removing them was a few degrees away from outright terrifying.
What if my business fails?
What if I can’t pay the bills?
What if I have to go back and get another job?
What if, what if, what if….
I desperately didn’t want to fail. I didn’t want my business, my life or my livelihood to plummet into the gutter. And I thought that growing up as the bright kid in school who always (always) colored within the lines, got A’s on her report card and never got into any trouble, that I had the golden ticket to entrepreneurial success.
Reality check: I WAS WRONG.
What actually happened? I failed. I failed ten ways ‘til Tuesday. I’ve failed more times since I quit my job six years ago than in my entire life. I’ve had an entire business crash into the gutter, not to mention the thousands of other ideas and projects over the years that have smashed into the cold hard ground without a parachute.
What I’ve learned is that even though there’s a stigma associated with failure in our society, failing is just a part of creating a life worth living. The more you dive in to live your life in “pursuit of happiness”, the higher your chances are of failure. But here’s what I had to realize for myself—there’s nothing wrong with failure. Failure is the spice of life. Failure is what makes the good times worth it. Failure is what gives you the information and experiences that you need to as an entrepreneur to be successful in the long-run. I wouldn’t be where I am today without gaining the tons of knowledge that came with each one of my failures–big and small.
Think about it this way:
When you step away from your day job, you realize that it’s a different world out there among fellow business owners. It’s a world where failure is acceptable, commonplace and—dare I say—essential. If you’re out there failing, it means you’re out there trying. And the more you’re trying, the more likely you are to start succeeding. The only failure is not doing anything at all. Additionally, keep in mind that the mistakes you make going forward are not going to be tattooed on you. Failure isn’t permanent—it doesn’t go on your resume—unless you allow it to stop you in your tracks from achieving your ultimate goal.
As Rich Dad says, “Losers quit when they fail. Winners fail until they succeed.”
I wish I had known this from the beginning. Seeing the beauty in failure would have definitely smoothed out some of the bumps along my entrepreneurial journey. No matter. At least I understand it now.
This 2014—do yourself a favor. Don’t steer clear of your dreams just because it’s tough to face potential failures along the way. Don’t continue on the safe path of mediocrity because everyone around you has conformed to a humdrum risk-adverse life. Don’t let the fear of failure keep you tightly wrapped in your comfort zone. Put something on the line for your dreams. Fail at something in the next 12 months. Step out of your comfort zone, push aside other people’s expectations of you, and for god sake, take the bumpers of your bowling alley. Now, Dude, let’s go bowling.