“Failure + Perspective: Success”
written by a member of the class of 2022
Failing does not make you a failure, you have been lied to. The dreaded part of life, that people spend their whole existence trying to eliminate, does not have to hold the power that it so often does. Viewing failure as the topic that should not be named is understandable, no doubt. But, what happens when you allow yourself to let go, to fail, to live without fear. What happens when you take hold of the failing, the uncertainty, and the worry. Some might say little change occurs. Some would say nothing changes, or some might even say the opposite happens. Today we concur with the opinion that immense change takes place. The world truly does become your oyster when you embrace failure as a reality and embody a healthy perspective to convert it into success.
It sounds like a rather backwards idea, when you first hear that failure can be beneficial. After all, society has slowly been conditioning people to believe failure is the all-knowing litmus test for the success a person might experience in life. Yet, when this thought of failure’s possibility is actually conceptualized, I think we will find it makes more sense than we formerly thought. Instead of our failure defining how much we succeed, failure can actually increase our success. Failures are potential life lessons waiting to launch action. So much potential ability to improve, all right there, it is so evident yet very few take the time to see it.
Failure is defined as a lack of success or the inability to meet an expectation... the expectation we often fail to meet is our own, or one that we’ve created in our own head... we especially don't want to be labeled as a failure. But, maybe that is a mistake. Failure can be useful. We can learn from it... (Thompson)
Mr. Thompson is clearly alluding to the idea that we can so easily miss. Our detrimental expectations for success are what kill our ability to fail well, and thus succeed.
You might be wondering, why bother with failure, and it is a valid question to be asking yourself. As our idea of failure and success’s relationship, as well as the key role perspective plays in changing it progresses, however, hopefully we can see the error in that thought process and realize failure is inevitable. Capturing a new perspective is vital and fixing our failing mindset is worth any hassle to achieving all that we have the potential to.
Each and every one of us deep down knows failure is inevitable. It is one of the essential, albeit tough, parts of life, and it happens too frequently to keep track of. There is no escaping its clutches, despite how many people try to market a different story. Although there is no bypass for failure, there are some ways to decrease its harmful side effects. They are seemingly trivial tips that lessen the hold our own personal failure has on our lives. The tips are not grand or big thoughts that nobody has heard of before, uncharted ideas that will blow your mind. They are, however, majorly life changing in their impact. Before we delve into some of those useful tips, it is important to dive into the idea of failure and a few examples to give a clearer picture.
“1776. New York City. Pardon me. Are you Aaron Burr, sir?” No doubt from this one line, you likely know exactly what musical and maybe even what song is being referenced. On the off chance you have no clue, it comes from the infamous Broadway musical, Hamilton. Aaron Burr, the main focus of this particular song, and one of the most important characters in the whole production is renowned and hailed as a Broadway legend. When people choose a favorite character, often he is at the top of the list, so it probably comes as no shock that the man who plays this character in the original Broadway cast, Leslie Odom Jr., has also been hailed as a Broadway legend. He has been booking musicals and TV show roles with a consistency to display how talented he is, even further, earning himself a reputable name in the broadway industry, and across the world.
No doubt Odom’s success is well earned, but what most may not realize is all the work and failure that was crucial for his journey. Contrary to popular belief, it was not just a short, easy ride. It was a journey through a tumultuous mountain range filled with a myriad of ups and downs, so much so that Odom wrote an autobiography of his life entitled, Failing Up, where he details all that went into his journey. Recounting his personal and frequent run-ins with failure, he experienced everything, from having to having to drop out of his dream school to failed auditions. There was a lot of failure on his road to success. Sprinkled throughout his book, Odom graces us with his words of wisdom when it comes to failure. He writes things like: “When you find yourself on the ground after a big leap, you dust yourself off and commit to failing smarter next time. The path to moments of greatness in your life will be paved, in part, with your spectacular failures.” and, “In my willingness to fail, I flew instead.” Powerful food for thought that shows just how he viewed those tough times in his life. Instead of focusing on the fact that he fell down, Odom chooses to emphasize how he got up. He could have focused on the fact that he was turned down for a myriad of auditions, or how he had to drop out of his dream school, or how he lived with his parents for years, but he did not. Instead, Odom focused on the fact that he was able to rise up after each failure, ready to try again.
Odom is not alone in his failure, though, I myself have been well acquainted with failing. With so many different examples to draw from, I have quickly lost count of how many there are, from really embarrassing stories, to ones that I care less about, and everything in between. We can start in my early life where I had an image of myself that was the opposite of a model student or child. Striving to make myself stand out, whether that meant I was a failure or not. I was doing everything in my power to reach that level of uniqueness no matter the cost. In my tween years, I failed to fit in and make friends, spending more time by myself than I ever did talking to others. I sat alone at lunch tables, invited my sisters to my birthday party, and Sunday school was my only outlet for peer interaction. Even now, when I recently failed to excel at sports, and attain the grades I strove so hard to maintain. Truly there are many more times, and I have only been alive for seventeen years. In short, I myself have experienced many personal failures and can acknowledge the heavy presence of them in my life. No matter how hard I fought, and still foolishly sometimes do, it rarely worked out for me. So, although my failures have not yet reached a level with adult-like consequences, I am well acquainted with the idea of failure and have a plethora of experiences to prove it.
By now, you might have started to brew your own list of present and past failures. It could be a long list, or maybe you happen to be one of the lucky few who has a relatively short list. It does not matter. Leslie Odom Jr. fails. I fail. You fail. If there is anything to take away from this, it is the normality of failure. Failure is a commonality and a necessity of life. Ever since Adam and Eve catapulted the fall, failure has been an everyday part of life. It will be until God comes back to make all things right. There truly can be no way to avoid it. You may try to outsmart others into not failing, you may try to cushion your failure so it goes unnoticed, or you may even throw others under the bus to lessen the appearance of your failure. In the end, it all becomes a waste of energy that was expended trying to outrun and outsmart the unbeatable failure. We will fall short almost every time we try. Ironic, is it not? We will fail so much at not failing. This first step of acknowledging the permanent place of failure in our lives is integral in converting our failure to success. Realize that we do not have any power to rid our lives of failure, and consider giving in and letting the current of life carry you towards success.
At first, that current is a scary place to be. No one likes to relinquish control over their own lives, but most would agree that failure is inevitable. Whether the conversion of failure to success was taught in your household at a very young age, or whether it was a hard lesson learned as years started to go by; it is important to bear in mind that failure is an option. It is no secret that blocking out failure is a common goal for many. Trying to preserve ourselves from all of the woes that failing has to give us is prevalent, and although it is an understandably appealing pursuit to fail as little as possible, failure is still a worthy choice to keep fresh in our toolbelt of options. Failure is predestined in nature, so why not willingly receive it? Why not be open to accepting what is already there, instead of ignoring what is clearly a reality? Really, failure is the elephant in the room nobody wants to address but that everybody knows is there. Pretty foolish, really, failure is there; we cannot do anything to change it, but we can act differently on it.
Perspective: it is the unknown, often unacknowledged lens of life. A pair of sunglasses that is uniquely our own and cannot come off. It shapes how we interact with others, how we conduct ourselves, and even how we make decisions. It also influences our reaction to any failure in our lives. Perspective shapes who we are as people. Often synonyms like “mindset” and “outlook” are used interchangeably with perspective. These, however, do a poor job of setting the mind up for all that they do.
A positive perspective is helpful. Every aspect of life has the ability to be enhanced for the better, if positivity influences how we approach life, but arguably none more than failure. An article by King’s Law Office, an established firm that serves many people on the Eastern coast of the US, went through various things that make people live longer saying this:
Empirical evidence seems to substantiate a general observation that individuals who are upbeat and sunny also appear to be healthy and actively engaged in good things... Numerous studies have followed cohorts of US seniors over the years and surveyed attitudes and health. In general, the better the attitude the better the health and the longer the life.
Positivity can help lessen the burden of life, ease any pains we might experience, and thus cause our lives to last longer. Although the duration of life is a pressing and important thing that most people concern themselves with, the quality of that life is arguably more important. For is it not much better to experience ten great years of life than to live for twenty subpar years?
This positivity is what separates those who ‘make the most of life’ and those who do not. We need positivity to live well because it is hard to get back up and try again after failing. It is not easy being knocked down by life, and positivity helps to cushion our falls. Yes, it is still going to sting, but the sting is exceedingly better than the sharp shooting pain. Choosing positivity does not ensure that our life will be completely sun-filled and wonderful forever. However, it does increase our chances of leading a better life. One that includes more success after failures.
We have this great cushion right at our fingertips. It is not as simple as just buying it, yet we have the ability to access it freely. Why would we not want to have such a helpful tool in our grasp by embracing negativity? We can make our circumstances better by embracing positivity. We can make our failures fewer, or at the very least produce better results. Who would choose to drink poison when their favorite drink is sitting right beside it? Asking that question seems silly when you phrase it like that; yet, we do it all the time by using a negative perspective instead of a positive one. We do not choose to sleep on the cold, hard floor when there is a comfy, king sized bed waiting for us. We do not choose to eat a frozen dinner when there is an oven turned on and ready to be used. Although these are extreme examples, the same thought still applies. Why allow choosing a negative perspective to affect our success rates when we could pursue a positive one.
It is beyond easy to promote pursuing a positive mindset, but much harder to live out, and sometimes seems unyielding in rewards. Look with me, however, at one of the greatest examples of how positivity can change the outcome that is, the placebo effect.
The placebo effect is a mysterious thing...the idea that something as inert and harmless as a sugar pill could relieve a person’s pain or hasten their recovery just by the expectation that it would...The word "placebo" comes from Latin and means "I shall please." And "please" it does. In study after study, many people who take a placebo show improvement in their symptoms or condition.” (Shmerling)
Simply by believing in a last resort ‘medicine’ that has a 98% rate of success, a person can heal their body completely with sugar pills, or something to that end, for the different treatments and levels of healing can fluctuate. From your common cold to even cancer, there have been numerous examples of the success of the placebo effect.
Although sugar pills are a common example most associate with the placebo effect, recently there have even been controlled placebo surgeries. One of the most well-known case studies was performed by Bruce Moseley, an American orthopedic surgeon at Houston Methodist. During the case, Moseley took 180 patients who suffered from such extreme intense knee pain that even the best drugs could not help ease the pain. He split them in half and gave one group real arthroscopies and the other placebo procedures. In order to keep all of the participants in the dark as to which group they were in, Moseley still gave all of the placebo patients small incisions and pain medications (but no repairing of the cartilage); as well as talking through the real procedure with all 180 of the patients. What Moseley and his team of doctors found after reviewing over fifty of the trials is that the fake surgery and the real surgeries produced essentially the same results. In more than half of the trial performed, the fake procedure was just as adequate as the real surgery. (Howich) The placebo effect is applied positivity, and it works. Although it may seem a bit far fetched, or a bit unrelated, why not apply the same logic to our failures? If sickly, sometimes even dying, individuals can heal their body with their mind, surely the mind can help convert failures into successes.
Failure can lead to success. It is a simple statement, but one that most people do not believe. To most people, failure is never good. It seems to show who is a successful person, and who is not. In our society, it really seems like a litmus test that people hold their breaths for. We, however, can use failure to our advantage, if we choose to harness a new perspective. Although changing our perspective seems rather uncomplicated and straightforward, it will not be an easy task.
It is natural to want an easy life, win the lottery, and then relax at the beach every day until you die. And there is nothing wrong with that, as long as you are okay with never reaching your full potential. But if you want to see how great you can be, there is no way around adversity. In fact, reaching your goals is supposed to be hard! You are supposed to struggle, fall down, and try once more despite the failure. (Weigman)
Harnessing failure goes against everything in our nature. But, despite the fact that failure is hard, failure happens to all people. The whole world could be turned upside down, and we could always find someone experiencing failure. Year after year every human could be assessed for weakness, and every person would come back with some sort of flaw. Small or big, what we consider serious or on the side of humorous, everyone has some flaws. After all, Michael Jordan has “...missed more than 9,000 shots in [his] career. [He] lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times [he’s] been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed,” yet, he is one of the best shooting guards to have ever played basketball (Tom Callum). Go way back in time and you will find a man who was “defeated for political office 7 times, lost a job, failed in business, experienced the death of his fiancée, and regularly had nervous breakdowns” (Gosmallbiz). That is no short list, but it belongs to Abraham Lincoln, one of the most well known US presidents ever. So, if nothing else, we can draw some sort of comfort from the fact that everyone will go through adversity at a point in life. Humans hundreds of years ago to just last week have experienced failures, and everyone in between. Even though it might seem like it, we are not alone.
As well as drawing comfort, we can also learn from the failure of others. If the pause button of life could be pressed and time could be slowed down for just a second, could we see it? Take a moment to look beyond ourselves and realize that people can give us free life lessons. If we devote the time, we can save ourselves a lot of time and energy simply by studying the lives of others. Our lineage before us, and even random people we have never met, can provide us with ways to avoid certain failure. All that has to be done is simply taking the time to look and see. Try it out after all what do you have to lose?
The failure of others is helpful for changing our perspective, and therefore improving our lives, but in reality, our own mistakes are the most valuable. We know the most about our failure and all the details that go along with it. From failing the SAT, to not getting the job you applied for, to failing friendships. We are present for every step of the process, and we know every minute detail about what happened. Knowing such also gives the opportunity to do something with our failure. “‘Every winner begins as a loser,’ says Wang, the professor of management and organizations at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, author and world-renowned associate. “But not every failure leads to success,” he adds (Noonan). Being able to separate these two ways of thinking is important in properly being able to harness failure’s potential. For it would be foolish, and even more disappointing to think that all failure can and will lead to success. Regardless, why let these temporary low periods inhibit our life when we can make the most of our mistakes and failures?
Four hundred and thirty-two hours, most likely not consecutive, and if you’re like the average human, spread out sporadically here and there. It takes four hundred and thirty-two hours (eighteen days) at the minimum to form a new habit. In fact, it can handily take up to six thousand and ninety six hours (two hundred and fifty-four days) for others. Even further, the average person generally can not make a behavior a habit till around one thousand five hundred and eighty-four hours (sixty-six days). (Healthline 1)
Forming habits takes so much time, and yet failure’s time is expected to be nearly nonexistent. People expect there to be very little time between when you fail and your next move. Which, of course, has to be a success. Nothing happens overnight, so why do we press so hard for failure to be erased, or for it to have no rest time. It is rather unnatural to try and force a fast recovery time when it comes to failure. It goes against the natural way of learning from our mistakes and trying again hopeful for different results.
Another unnatural thing to fight against is the fact that failure frustrates us. Very few people have mastered the ability to remain unaffected by failure and not crumble as soon as immediate success does not come. It has been subconsciously hard-wired in our brain that truly better humans can eliminate their failures, that getting it right the first time is the only acceptable way. How far from the truth “As much as we like to win, we are all prone to making mistakes. Failing is a natural, necessary process. Some failures must be experienced first-hand so we can ‘live and learn,’” (Wharton). It’s a reality nonetheless. This is part of the reason successful people like Steph Curry, Bill Gates, Lebron James, and Mark Zuckerburg are so good at what they do. They are all well acquainted with failure, have the right attitude, and not let it affect their future decisions and choices. It is this ability to realize that success takes time, and this fact separates the people who will succeed from those who will not.
Steph Curry, one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, had this to say on attaining the same level of talent, “I’ve been developing muscle memory since I was basically five years old. You gotta put in the hours, it only comes with reps. However many shots I’ve taken since I was five, you gotta shoot that many shots” (Actually Me). Notice how he did not say that it was a certain number of shots. He did not set a limit or give a defined goal. Curry stated the number of years he spent developing this muscle memory, in his case that is twenty-eight years, because the process of becoming one of the best NBA players took time. It was not instant. The only way to achieve the same results is to devote the same amount of time as Steph Curry.
Truly nothing happens overnight. It does not matter if you are trying to learn a new skill, pick up a new hobby, or just accomplish a goal. It all takes a time commitment. There is no way around it. Some products promise to be faster than others and produce a faster result, when in reality they cannot promise that. Some companies try to beat their competition in service time, when they have no guarantee of actual success. Like Dominos, the famous American pizza company that has the slogan 30 minutes or FREE. We, as a society, have been driven by convenience. We want what we want, how we want it, and when we want it. This demand for convenience does not work well with failure and success. No results are immediate, and often they make us even more frustrated, especially when it comes to failure. Dashun Wang, quoted earlier, summed this thought up well “You don’t just fail once,” Wang says. “You fail over and over. And while that litany of failures may make the Edisons of the world better off, it seems to thwart many other people” (Allen).
Given this growing disposition, we are prone to believe our true success only comes about when we realize the only true obstacle is nestled inside our own brains. The four lobes of tissue that sit in our skull and the ideas that float around in it are all that we need to hold us back. John Maxwell’s book “Failing Forward” constantly came up in searches about failure, and everybody who read it seemed to rave about it. So, naturally, it had to be read. He had a lot of wisdom to impart, “Failure is an inside job. So is success. If you want to achieve, you have to win the war in your thinking first. You can’t let the failure outside you get inside you.” Our failures are not tangible, and yet, they can do more damage than being hit by a truck. Any “negative Nancy” telling us not to try again truly stops us from growing and learning from our mistakes. How are we supposed to learn if we never allow ourselves to fail? We cannot, which is why harnessing all of those thoughts is the first and most important step in embracing our failure in order to succeed. A description of failure can be helpful in reorienting yourselves to the reality of it; “And yet it is also just a temporary bout of shortsightedness-- nothing serious-- which dissipates once the context is changed” (Muse). That is why in two years, ten years, even twenty, we often do not remember our past failures and shortcomings. If they are remembered, more often than not, we can chuckle at the fact that we took them so seriously.
By now, we know this is a process, and a long one at that. Failure can be long and tedious, so the process of learning from it is no exception either. That learning process, however, is full of constant choices. Life itself is full of ups and downs. There are hundreds of different quotes and life stories about rising and falling. Life is never a straight line, and if it is, then it is probably not being done right. As such, you might fail and then succeed, and maybe you might even fail again. Choosing to get back up and look at debacles as another chance to prove to yourself you can succeed from failure. Otherwise, this newfound choice will not last very long because humans fail a lot. For most it is a daily occurrence to have any lasting impact, we need constantly to choose to look at failure as a step towards success.
Choices, however, do not usually linger around. You have to also truly desire those choices. “How we handle failure is more important than how we handle success. We are all going to experience failure at some point in our lives, and our attitude about that failure is what determines whether we bounce back or fall hard” (Ensemble). Do we want to use failure? Or are we content to continue to fail over and over again, with no change in the outcome. If we are content to let ourselves waste potential, and not fully harness our potential, then disregard everything; since this journey is not going to be fun or easy, you are going to have to want it. Whenever we are losing a game my volleyball coach always tells us, “You’ve gotta want it. I can’t want it enough for you. You’ve got to dig deep inside yourself to find it-- and win.” That same mentality applies here to our failures and successes. That does not mean you cannot grow your desire, and it certainly does not guarantee that you will not lose that here and there but, it does mean that you will always try and find it once you lose it. You will always be working to foster that desire till it comes as a second nature.
Making the choice to think positively is not the only aspect to consider. You have to actively anticipate that you may think negatively. That may not be the case for every single person however, for most it is the reality. Everything in your being gravitates towards negativity. Realize, if we train properly, we can learn how to exercise hindsight in advance. Use the knowledge we collect to see what could go wrong, and how to stop our mind from receiving it that way.
Success is never accidental. Some people might be blessed with talents that further their success, but grit ultimately decides who succeeds and who does not. I would want everyone to embrace failure if they could, but that is impossible. There is a pop song, “Face off” that is popular right now and written by Dwayne “The Rock'' Johnston. Although it is rather satirically humorous to listen to, the lyrics ring true. “It’s about drive. It’s about power. We stay hungry, we devour. Put in the work, and put in the hours. To take what’s ours.” Our passion is what gets us going, our constant choice to hunger after it is what sustains us, and putting in the work is what yields us success in the end. “Successful individuals, groups, and organizations fail much more than they succeed. However, their larger success derives from the fact that they fail well. The difference lies in their perception of and their response to failure. In a word, they treat it as a process” (Oliver). Mr. Serrat ties these ideas together nicely. Successful people fail, but their success is only able to be produced because of how they respond with grit.
So far we have talked a lot about how much work success will be. The amount of time it will take to achieve such success, and the fact that it is a hard journey to undertake. However, do not forget that all of the unpleasant feelings are not for nothing. The benefits are limitless. Embracing failure provides us with more motivation, gives us more creativity, and instills tenacity in us. Another benefit is the freedom to fail. It allows us to succeed. To gain that freedom alone would make this all worth it. That freedom is what allows us to dance like nobody is watching, to sing even if we have a bad voice, and to put ourselves out there. It is a blessing in disguise that people often overlook. Why should anyone attribute success toward something so minuscule. The success that comes along with properly viewing failure in the correct light is also a major benefit.
Given that this failure area is such a prevalent thing in life, especially in youth, its worth increases all the more. I, myself, am still an adolescent, and have experienced many failures already. Properly learning about failure now is going to save me so much time in the future, and benefit my life as a whole immensely. Angela Duckworth, the founder and CEO of Character Lab, a nonprofit whose mission is to advance scientific insights that help children thrive wrote an entire book about how her childhood helped her learn about failure and how it promoted grit.
Still, part of me wanted to travel back in time to when I was a young girl. I’d tell him what I know now. I would say, Dad, you claim I’m no genius. I won’t argue with that. You know plenty of people who are smarter than I am... I’ll challenge myself every day. When I get knocked down, I’ll get back up. I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I’ll strive to be the grittiest... In the long run, Dad, grit may matter more than talent.
Fostering this healthy view of failure early on is what will reap the most reward in the end, because instead of having this drudgery towards not succeeding, these young kids can live with a sense of relief. A relief that they will fail in life, but that it will all be okay. Think of the impact that would come about if we started instilling this virtue in our youth. If we encouraged them to take risks-- not just when it is prime conditions, but also when there is going to be some repercussions. If we encouraged them to fail hard, to fall hard, and to rise again for another shot. If we encouraged them to see failure as a friend, rather than a foe to avoid at all cost. Duckworth also had this to say about grit, “What’s more, I know that grit is mutable, not fixed, and I have insights from research about how to grow it”. Which means that it is never too late to encourage growing personal grit, and it can constantly be improved. What would our world look like if we did? What would these kids’ lives look like?
We can and should show empathy, become great role models for healthy failure, teach them in the moments of failure, and ultimately allow them to fail for themselves. Undoubtedly, they would lead happier lives, but most importantly they would understand the truth: that failure is a cornerstone for any house of success.
Do we see it this way? It is your house, your architectural design, your signature on the foreclosure, so only you can change the details of the house. Because as much as facts are helpful, and stories are persuasive, each person has to choose to see it this way. Yes, it really does not come naturally for us, but the benefits are so real. The unnatural bend would be a lame excuse to use, when we fight against our nature in so many ways daily. The real question is, do you think that it is worth it?
You win some, you lose some. It has been a very popular phrase for a while now, yet it is pretty far off from the truth. Every individual has the ability to win all of life’s battles, it just probably does not look like what is expected. It is expected that you end up on top, you finish that thing, pass with flying colors, etc. When in reality, winning may look like being ‘knocked down’ yet gaining a valuable lesson. It is not just about societal loss versus the win, the reality is it is not that rudimentary. While you might lose the advantages that you could have gained, you really do not lose at all if you choose to use your failure. So much of life is our reaction to events and how we choose to grow from it. We cannot control everything. That is life. What does not have to be life is the overwhelming sense that we are failures; especially since we have not really failed at all. That all sounds great, but it does not seem that realistic. Does it?
The truth remains that our potential can become a reality, but that possibility is not real if our minds remain unfreed; unchained to what our culture tells us lies in failure, and what we choose to believe in those lies. It might even be a subconscious choice that we believe what culture tells us. Why let our doubts about failure’s power stop its success from coming true. In a way, our mind and preconceived thoughts or ideas of denial delay further proof of its reality. The very presence of any doubt creates space for the doubt to become a reality. Essentially, by believing the mindset will not work, it will not work.
Granted, once we accept its ability to achieve success, our failure becomes our power to harness. Remember, “Some [people] are no longer shying away from failure--they’re embracing it... those with track records reflecting both failure and success, believing that those who have been in the trenches, survived battle and come out on the other side have irreplaceable experience and perseverance. The quickest road to success is to possess an attitude toward failure of ‘no fear’” (Estrem). It all boils down to our ability to let go and actively pursue all that failure has to offer. So, what is stopping you? Is it the failure itself, the work that it takes, or just a lack of previous knowledge? Whatever the reason, think about why it is staying that way, because it certainly does not have to. And, maybe today is the day to change that.