What it Means to Fail
Note: This article was originally published to the Painless Prototyping Blog (now deactivated) on October 16th, 2016.
Back in June of 2013, I set out on a two year long journey to Panama to serve with the United States Peace Corps. Two years later I returned home, feeling like a failure for having not achieved much of anything. For almost a year after, I contemplated this fact and one day it dawned on me, there are actually two types of failure. Of course, there’s the failure I’m so very familiar with, of being lazy and not putting in my best effort. I believe that we are all accustomed to this type of failure, which I’ll refer to as lazy failure. Thinking as I write this, up until I was 21 or so, lazy failure was the only type of failure I knew. It wasn’t until I realized that this was unacceptable that I began to encounter the second type of failure, successful failures – of trying my hardest, but in the end, not succeeding. The transition was subtle and I continued to look down upon myself for failing, not realizing however, that I was having more and more successful failures.
Now that failure has been split up into two types, the ways to approach and find solutions are quite different. I think lazy failures are easy to address so I will start there.
It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get up” – Vince Lombardi.
If you fail to study enough for a test, follow through on a promise made to a friend, or stop going to the gym, no need to beat yourself up over it. Get back out there, try again, and make up where you fell short the first time. And if you should fall down again, get back up!
Successful failures are a much trickier, more rewarding, beast. Peace Corps, was very much a successful failure. I gave it my all, to the point of mental and emotional exhaustion, but ended up not achieving what I set out to do for the people of El Escobal, Panama. While the situation was quite negative, there was still some light in the dark; the reason I chose the word successful to precede failure. I left Panama with a better understanding of myself, of others, and of many other things I have not yet been able to appreciate. What I learned through that experience has given me a little more oomph to succeed in future encounters with potential failure.
Of course, while successful failures can be rewarding, they are also quite draining. I would like to close out this post with some strategies and quotes that have helped me not only through Peace Corps but other difficult situations as well. Most importantly, surround yourself with positive and motivated people who will be there to push you and support you through difficult situations. My sister refused to let me quit Peace Corps and I am forever grateful to her for that. Secondly, social media is everywhere, and sometimes toxic to our well-being. Something important to keep in mind is that:
The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel” – Steven Furtick.
Last but not least, one of the main motivating quotes of my actions throughout life
I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’ – Mohammed Ali.