The Merits of Failure
You can always rely on change to present itself in your life. Right when you get comfortable in one role, for example, as a high school student, the time comes for you to move on to college or university. By the time you reach your final year of undergrad, the time comes to make decisions that will influence the rest of your life. Will you go on to graduate school? Will you apply to internships? Can you find a job with just a Bachelor’s degree?
With change, comes the fear of failure.
Students are pressured to construct a path that will lead to certain idealized achievements, and a stable career, and a comfortable lifestyle. We are left asking ourselves what we want out of our degrees, what career would make us the most money, or how best to fulfill the aspirations our parents have for us.
It is normal to be afraid. Afraid of choosing the wrong path. Afraid of failing to reach your goals. Afraid of lagging behind your successful peers.
What we often don’t realize is that failure can be a gift. Failure is not just okay; failing is good. When you get a cold, you reflect on when you were healthy and realize how much you took your health for granted. In the same way, failing reminds you not to take success for granted. Even more so, some may say that if you ‘fail to fail’ – or if you avoid failure – it means you are not pushing yourself. If you are not pushing yourself, are you fulfilling your potential?
From a young age, we encounter a hegemonic expectation of how the model citizen should live their life. The model citizen must go to school. The model citizen must get a well-paying job and contribute to the economy. The model citizen must have a family, and raise their children to become model citizens.
It seems as if we must make decisions at only 18 years of age or younger pertaining to the rest of our lives. We see our peers planning to be doctors, or lawyers, or business executives, and so we often follow suit.
What no one tells you, however, is that it is okay to dream, it is okay to go against the norm, and it is okay to take your time. Oftentimes, we are afraid to do these things because of the risk. Maybe you will fail to fulfill your family’s expectations, or be judged by your friends and peers who you see moving faster than you. If I take a year off from school, will I fail to go back? If I pursue acting, will I be able to get a job?
Thierer (2016) understands that the common understanding of risk is “the potential for an unwanted outcome”. Thierer (2016) proposes that this definition of risk fails to acknowledge that risk can also produce a “desired outcome”.
Without taking the risk of failure, or making a mistake, we are unable to learn from those failures, cope with change, and apply adaptive solutions. Failing also provides us with a new perspective, because once you overcome failing, you realize it is not the end of the world. Failure can, in a sense, be liberating. Failing is not the finale, failing is just the beginning of self-improvement, and that realization can prepare you for bigger challenges in the future.
The risks we encounter have enormous implications for ourselves. Picking the right degree, or the right school are decisions that chart our futures. The important point to remember is to pick the path that you find most suitable to your personal desires, which are not necessarily the ones society has picked for you, no matter the risk that may be associated.
Taking the time to follow your heart is necessary. Taking the time to fail leads to life lessons that you may not have otherwise learned, had you made a safer decision. For example, maybe you decided to apply to a competitive internship, but you are rejected. Had you not applied, you would not have learned how to improve your application for the next application. Rather than having that failure destroy you and your motivation, you can take that loss and have it work for you. Tips to come back from failure can be found here and here.
Succeeding is wonderful. Every human strives to succeed. But what success means to you, and the paths that you take to succeed, are subjective. Success might come easily to some, and much harder to others. But after you hit rock bottom, you can only rise, and you will appreciate the win more.
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