No man wants to fail. Because we value competence and skill, failure hits us at the core of our being. It stabs our pride. To put it bluntly, failing sucks. But there’s a fate that worse than failing to succeed: failing to try. When we get too focused on our fear of failing, that’s exactly where we end up, refusing to even try.
Fearing failure is natural. All of us have a self-preservation instinct, both physically and socially. We never want to look bad in front of others. Social media is a great example of that. People work very hard to make sure that the image that they present to others is one that looks good. They may be willing to poke fun at themselves or post a picture that shows them doing something silly, but almost no one will post about their failures. They’ll talk about their dreams, plans, and attempts to level up, and they’ll certainly talk about their successes. But you’ll rarely see a social media post that says “I just poured all the energy and knowledge and skill I had into this project and it was an abject failure. It sucked. Nobody liked it.”
Instead, we try to hide our failures. We deflect. We change the subject. We go into hiding. We put a false smile on our face. Something. Anything to avoid acknowledging to others that we failed. What’s more, we often try to avoid acknowledging it to ourselves. But I want us to think about failure differently, seeing it as a good thing in two ways: (1) the effort and the journey carried an intrinsic reward for us, and (2) it was merely a step on the road to success.
The Reward of Failure
“The reward of failure”. That sounds really weird, like some positive-thinking bullshit that people tell themselves when they lose. Except that there is a positive aspect to failing: it means that you had the courage to get off the sidelines and get in the game. It means that, on some level, you conquered your fear and you tried. You poured yourself into something. You put yourself out there. You risked. You entered the arena. That, my friends, is living.
Our world is full of men who won’t risk. They simply are not willing to be seen as foolish or lacking by anyone. So, instead of going after that thing that they’d like to try, they sit on the sidelines, often making fun of those who are trying. They’re like the “cool kids” at the middle-school dance. They lean up against the wall or sit over on the side, looking all uninterested and chill, laughing at all those dorks out on the dance floor. The fact: they’re scared. They’re scared to go out there and risk being laughed at. They wish they were free to go out there and have some fun. They wish they were free to not give a damn what other people thought about them. But they’re not. They’re enslaved by their fear of embarrassment.
“If 100% success and zero casualties are your goal, you’re going to conduct very few operations.” – Chris Kyle, American Sniper
To attempt anything worthwhile is to risk failure. Certainly, some projects involve more risk than others, and there’s nothing noble about taking risks that are not justified by the potential reward and the likelihood of obtaining that reward. But those are extreme cases, outliers that don’t really apply to most of us. I’m talking about the willingness to start that business you’ve always wanted to start. I’m talking about asking that girl out, about writing that book, about starting that podcast, about creating that YouTube channel, about starting that men’s group, about organizing that charity, about mentoring those kids, about initiating that conversation, and about the thousand other things that you really want to do but have been afraid to try.
If you’re going to insist that your project be a guaranteed success with little to no chance of failure before you’re willing to start it, I have news for you: you will never do anything worthwhile.
So, if you’ve gone hard after something and failed, be proud of yourself. You’ve shown that you’re more of a man than those dudes who aren’t willing to try. You’ve risked. Yeah, you may have lost this time, but you’ll be back. But you have the reward of the journey. You’ve learned lessons. Now you’re ready to adapt or to try a new route. You’d never have been where you are now if you hadn’t tried and failed. Failure is never the goal, but it sure gets you to places from which you can succeed.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison, on inventing the light bulb.
“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” – Colin Powell
Those who are most successful see failure as a necessary part of the journey. They don’t enjoy it, but they know that success is not likely without it. To them, like Edison, failure is progress. It means they’re one step closer to success, because they now know what doesn’t work. They’ll learn from it, make the necessary adjustments, and keep moving forward. They may change their path. The may alter their vision. But they won’t quit. They won’t worry about the critics. They certainly won’t worry about the haters.
They’ll keep chasing that thing that’s in their hearts. And that, gentlemen, is living. Such men will look back at their lives knowing that they went after what was in their hearts. They didn’t bow to the fear of failure. They didn’t let pressure from others shape their course. They shot their shot. They didn’t just exist, they lived. As Teddy Roosevelt admonished, they made sure that their place would “never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat”. And the satisfaction they feel in their souls will far exceed any embarrassment they encounter along the way. That’s the man’s life. Pursue it. Godspeed.
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