We humans have a tragic desire to oversimplify everything.
Even the infinitely complex relationships of universal forces are not safe from us. We have an incessant need to group these forces into simple, conflicting, polar relationships.
Light vs dark, night vs day, love vs hate, and good vs evil are all examples of our tendency to simplify intricately woven dichotomies into singular conflicts between two opposing forces.
But life isn’t that simple. We all exist in that blurry somewhere between black and white.
I’m not sure when exactly it happened, but our perception of failure has also fallen prey to this same oversimplified categorization.
We see it as the opponent of success. We see it as success’ polar and negative opposition.
We’ve villainized the idea of failure to the extent that we’ve systematically set about eradicating it from our lives. We avoid failure. We avoid putting ourselves into situations where failure is even a possibility. We avoid the memories of our past failures and we shudder at the thought of future failures.
Many of us cannot think of anything worse than becoming a failure in the eyes of our friends, family, and complete strangers. We’ve come to fear the notion of failure and, as such, we’ve given the word power.
The power we’ve given the idea of failure affects us all in our daily lives. It bothers me to see so many of us struggle against the possibility of it.
Whether it’s the mastering of Olympic lifts, speaking a new language, learning an instrument, trying to dance the tango, pursuing an intimate relationship, or perfecting the handstand, we’ve all allowed the concept of failure to hinder us from experiencing so many of our passionate desires – big or small.
It’s heartbreaking to think that we’re willing to sacrifice so many of these miniature adventures in life because of our fear of failing.
What’s worse is the realization that this crippling effect is only magnified when it comes to our biggest dreams and life’s ambitions.
Especially since failing is an essential part of achieving those dreams.
There are people who never make mistakes because they never have sensible projects.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Maxims and Reflections.
Think back to when we were children.
Think of the scraped knees, the summers we spent in casts and slings, the reprimanding we received when we came home with ripped and muddied clothes, and the countless other war stories we wrote as little gladiators.
We were certainly fearful as children.
Whether it was fear of the dark, of the big dog next door, or of the monster we believed was in our closet, childhood could be a terrifying time.
When it came to the prospect of failure, however, we were fearless.
We were Roman legionnaires, Greek myrmidons, and Apache warriors.
We crashed our bikes, we played in the mud, we fell off the monkey bars, we slipped on frozen ponds, and we doggy paddled hopelessly until we sunk to the bottom of the pool.
We tried and we failed, and then we got up to do it all over again.
We did this literally thousands of times.
Eventually, at a point in time I doubt any of us really remember, we stopped failing at those things. We could ride our bike, we could skate on ice, and we could swim laps. That road to success was laid with countless bricks of failure.
As much as we benefited from our childhood mistakes, our witch hunt against failure has fooled us into stealing these lessons away from our youth.
I see an overabundance of participation ribbons. I see schools removing failing grades. I see sports being played without the score being kept.
I see jungle gyms being replaced by rubber prisons to serve as the vanguard against the dark arts of scraping one’s knees. I see kids with headsets on playing their x-box and growing up without team mates because their parents believe hockey or karate is too dangerous for their fragile son or daughter.
We don’t have much as children.
We have to go to bed before the grown ups. We have to eat that smelly broccoli before we’re allowed to leave the table.
We’re not even allowed to wear our favourite Ninja Turtles shirt because it has mustard stains on it and it’s picture day at school.
It’s bullshit, really.
The one thing we truly possess as children, however, is freedom from socially constructed fears.
We don’t care if we look stupid. I mean, we cut our own hair withCrayola scissors and actually think it looks good for Christ’s sake. We don’t care if people see us fall, drop the ball, or crash into a tree.
We’re determined and unbreakable.
We’re made of rubber on both the inside and the out. We bounce, we’re bouncy.
So why then are we so hell-bent on destroying that for our earthly heirs? Do we really want a planet full of people who have never experienced the lessons and subsequent growth of failure?
I’m sure most of us have seen Jim Carey’s speech on fear. I think it’s a wonderful way of looking at life and at failure.
I agree completely with his line of reasoning – if the potential to fail exists in both playing it safe and chasing your dream, it doesn’t make sense to choose the former – but I also think it extends further than that.
Failure is an absolute necessity in obtaining the things we want.
If we want to achieve anything in life, we will experience failure. This is a certainty and we must accept it. Only through accepting and embracing that simple fact can we take that first sincere step in our personal journey.
Instead of removing childhood from the child, we should be re-discovering that childhood as adults.
We should all be learning from the little warriors we used to be.
Be the tiny gladiators who innately understand the importance of failure on the way to success.
Be the mini commandos who were not socially conditioned to equate failure with the opposite of achievement.
Those kids are still in us, somewhere. We are still bouncy. So go out today and scrape your knees. Fall off of the monkey bars and look stupid.
Do something you suck at.
Fail every single day and I promise you that we will never stop learning and growing together.
Be good to each other,