The utility of failure

Failure is something that is feared and disliked by anyone with half a brain. Your sense of self-esteem is, after all, measured by how well you succeed at doing something, not how badly you fail at doing it. Most of us try to avoid failure at all costs- at any cost- so that we never have to feel the sting of embarrassment and the pain of rejection that comes from failure.

There is one thing, however, that failure is very good for: it teaches you like nothing else can.

Someone wise once said that "good judgement comes from experience- and a lot of that comes from bad judgement". Very few of us are so preternaturally gifted as to wake up in the morning completely ready and able to face every possible challenge that life throws at us. We get to be good at things by failing at them, repeatedly, and learning from our mistakes until we achieve mastery.

In order to achieve mastery, you have to put in the time and effort to achieve whatever goal you've set your mind upon achieving. If you start out half-heartedly, and never learn from your failures, you'll never achieve your goals- but if you keep your head down, keep learning from your screwups, and keep showing up to put in the work, then your failures will hone your skills and sharpen your focus.

And when you start to look at failure in this way, you quickly realise that failure, in and of itself, is NOT something to fear.

This is not a call for doing something stupid, just so we are clear. Fear is a healthy survival instinct that kicks in when you're about to do something that puts your precious person at significant risk. There is no reason to take stupid risks. If you're going to start sparring with full contact, wear protective gear. If you're going to lift heavy weights, learn the right form and get a spotter, or at the very least set the rack up so that you have a safe zone that can catch the weights. If you're going to approach, either in person or online, do your homework beforehand to get the logistics right. If you're going in for a tough job interview, do some preparation the night before so that you can easily handle whatever is coming your way.

If you're going to do something dangerous or difficult, take precautions to make sure that you'll most likely walk away from it intact- and then do it.

Because the one guaranteed way to fail, every single time, is not to try at all.

If you're afraid of failing, you'll never reach your true potential as a human being. You'll never maximise your strength and fitness. You'll never summon up the courage to talk to that hot girl at the bar, or meet that floozy you met online for a cup of coffee in the real world. You'll never learn whether you can take a punch or kick. You'll never become the best version of yourself that you can be.

If you're afraid of failing, you might as well not bother starting in the first place.

But if you approach failure with the attitude that it is your teacher, and that you will learn from its lessons, then failure has no power over you. Yes, you'll screw up. You'll get your ass kicked by someone with vastly more experience than you. You'll end up hurting yourself. You'll end up making a complete ass of yourself in public while talking to that nut-bustingly hot girl. You'll end up completely blowing an interview because you got that one tough question wrong and ended up looking like an utter tool in front of your interviewer.

Big deal. There's always next time. You're a man. Pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes, and move on.

It's taken me years to get to the point where I actually look forward to challenges, the way I do now. I genuinely look forward to my next tough workout in the gym- even when I'm tired or sore, and I know I'd rather be at home sleeping, I go to the gym anyway because I'm not afraid of failing that day. I look forward to getting my ass kicked every week at my sparring classes- because I know that sparring and tag-fighting with people who are faster and better than me forces me to fix my mistakes, and because I know that even if I get my butt kicked, it's a challenge to me to improve myself. I look forward to my next big project at work because I know that there is every possibility that I'll mess something up- but I know from past experience that I have what it takes to figure it out and fix it.

And don't even get me started on how much better I am at job interviews and public speaking these days than I was ten years ago. Honestly, I wish I knew then what I know now. Back when I was just starting out with interviews, I was loud, brash, overconfident, and probably a bit grating in interviews. These days, I am quiet, measured, confident- because I know what I'm really good at and can speak to it articulately and confidently. Back then, public speaking made me very nervous; these days, public speaking doesn't worry me in the slightest, because I know my material cold.

Failure, solely in and of itself, is not something to fear. It is something to embrace- provided that you learn from it. If you don't, then you've wasted your time; another very smart person defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". If that is you, then just STOP. You're not doing yourself, or anyone else, any favours by repeating the same stupid mistakes.

If, however, you are willing to learn from your mistakes, then adopt a beginner's mindset, take the necessary precautions to minimise damage to yourself should you fail, prepare yourself- and DO IT.

For if you have prepared correctly, you have nothing to lose- and everything to gain.


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