Don’t Be Afraid of Failure

Before you read the title of this article and purposely start failing your exams, just hear me out. I feel that over the course of my life, I’ve been conditioned to believe that failure should be avoided at all costs. The walls of my childhood classrooms were plastered with signs that encouraged me to “strive for perfection.” My classmates would ask me what grades I got on my exams, just to compare who was doing better in the class. I also did gymnastics, where the ultimate goal of the sport was to obtain a “perfect ten” from the judges.

After a while, this idea of perfection begins to take a toll on us, whether we realize it or not. Maybe you get to a point where you realize that you’ve been blindly following your path in life, and then realize that you have no idea what you actually want to do with it. Or maybe you’re trying to conform to what you think you should be doing because it’s sensible or earns you the most money or “looks good” to those around you, but on the inside, you’re completely unfulfilled.

Eventually, this may lead you to the point of failure. Maybe you get laid off from a job. Maybe you take some time off of school because you’re so overwhelmed by the pressure that comes with it. Maybe you don’t get that coveted internship that you applied for and thought you had in the bag. Whatever situation it may be, it initially crushes you, because you thought you had everything planned out. You saw yourself at that job, school, or internship, and you’re devastated that things didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped they would.

I was in that same boat. When I took time off of school, I felt like the biggest failure on the planet. I had no idea what was next for me, and all of my “set plans” were completely turned upside down and replaced with the utmost uncertainty. I thought that because I wasn’t on a clear path, then I was doing something wrong.

After a while of sitting with and ultimately accepting that state of “failure,” my perspective began to shift. I realized that failure is just a state of mind, and that we only consider it to be a bad thing because that’s what we’ve been conditioned to believe. My unexpected failure began as a state of disappointment, and ultimately lead me to feeling the happiest that I’ve ever felt before.

When you realize that failure happens for a greater purpose, miracles you never even knew existed start to come out of the woodwork. Maybe you get an unexpected call for the job offer of your dreams. Maybe new and exciting friends come into your life, or you reconnect with old ones on a different level than ever before. Maybe you get a better internship than the one you initially thought was the only one for you. One thing leads to another and, suddenly, you realize that you’re extremely fulfilled in your life, and it’s all thanks to those unexpected experiences and people.

This phenomenon even proved itself to be true for Denzel Washington. In his 2011 Commencement Speech at the University of Pennsylvania, he encouraged the graduating class to not be afraid of failure. He shared his personal story of how he began his college career at Forhdam University, and because he couldn’t pinpoint his major of choice and become academically focused, his GPA ended up being a 1.8 one semester. He then took some time off of school, and encountered a woman at a beauty shop that told him that she knew he would “travel the world and speak to millions of people” in the future.

Washington was naturally skeptical of this, because he had just dropped out of school, which was the only path he imagined for himself. But he kept persevering and auditioning for new roles, and eventually he got his big break. His unexpected failure ultimately lead him to becoming a critically acclaimed actor with three Golden Globe Awards, a Tony Award, and two Academy Awards.

Instead of having a plan to fall back on, Washington advises to “fall forward,” because “every failed experiment is one step closer to success.” If you never leave your comfort zone in the pursuit of what makes you feel most alive, then you’ll always be left with uncertainty and regret. Taking a risk, even if it initially leads you to failure, can expose you to epiphanies that you would’ve never even known existed beforehand.

Ultimately, it all comes down to reconditioning your mind to believe that failure may actually be working to your benefit. When something doesn’t work out the way you hoped it would, it actually may be leading you to something even greater than you could have ever imagined.

Photos Courtesy of CareerGirlDailyForbes, and Popsugar.