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One week ago today I proudly started a new project called ‘Always There‘, it was a project where people could share stories of when people have helped them, stood by them, lifted them up when they were down, and most importantly showed a certain someone they would always been there no matter what. It was great*. There was only one tiny problem with it; it was a complete failure.
Now, let’s be clear. Failure is a relative term. On Championship Manager 00/01 for instance, I failed to win the Premier League with Sheffield Wednesday – beaten on the last day of the season no less. That is failure, and dramatic failure at that. Then there was the time I tried to jump over a big puddle as a 5 year old and ended up drenched. Failure. Getting a first in my university degree? Failed.
Theres actually two ways you can look at failure (in addition to the other million ways). The first is from a goal setting perspective. You set up your goal and you either achieve it, or you don’t. Then there is the more existential view of failure. This is where the verb ‘to be’ comes into play – I am a failure, you are a failure. You are suddenly defined by it, it is all-encompassing.
See, our view of failure is undoubtedly skewed by society. Failure being a subjective thing is relative to the goals you set. Note the word ‘you’ set. You should be the only person to set your own goals. The issue is that they are almost inevitably influenced from the outside. You set a goal to finish a marathon, then Tim comes along and says he did his first marathon in less than 4 hours. Tina comes out of the woodwork to tell you that she graduated and immediately got a job as the CEO of Apple without even so much as an interview. You get a ‘normal’ job after graduation and you feel like a failure, even though you had never previously expected to be CEO of Apple by the time you were 22.
This outside influence then forces your goals upwards, without any logical reason. Pushing things further and further out of reach. The failure is then defined by someone else’s expectation. That is why we are often not so scared of failure itself but scared of the reaction to failure. What people will think of it. What they will think of you, and me. Growing up I seemed to sense a wolf pack of people waiting, waiting for failure to occur. That is so they could immediately jump in and ridicule me. How dare you try something? Look at you, doing something. The cheek of it.
It is not all doom and gloom though.
You can opt out of this cycle, if you follow a strict diet of ‘not giving a shit’ (Also known as the NGAS diet), you will suddenly see that the people who look down on failure are the ones who live through other people’s success. With this approach failure doesn’t actually mean anything at all, it is just another thing that happens. Like the Sun rising or Donald Trumps ability to speak for hours without saying anything of any value at all.
Failure is a learning process, it gives you little clues as to why success didn’t happen and where it could come from in the future. A learning process, and a vital one. I am also glad it is a learning process which doesn’t involve having to actually go to school and sit and listen – I was never much of an academic person. All you need to do to be a success at failure is try anything and everything that comes into your mind, and I am sure you will also be a failure. Just like me. Successful failures.
OK, so my little project failed to take off, which pretty much makes it the Ostrich of the bird world. 270cm and 150kg of flightless failure*. But that’s ok, in fact it is more than ok. I will settle for that. My biggest failure would have been not to try at all.
*I seem to be slightly hard on the Ostrich here, they don’t fly because they don’t need to. They evolved out of it.