Today, I got a mail from one of my junior friends. He wrote me a mail about all the lessons he had learnt from what he considered a bitter failure experience. According to him, he had worked hard, prayed hard and longed hard for a particular achievement, and he was just informed that he was unsuccessful. In many ways, this young man reminded me of me, up until now, he had always had his way, he had always won. He was on one of those prestigious scholarships, academically good and is a social and entrepreneurial genius in the making.
As I read the lessons he said he had learnt, and the fact that this event has robbed him momentarily of focus and made him unprepared for his forthcoming exams, I remembered my first encounter with failure. The event affected me so much, it became a significant point of decision in my life. The only difference for me, was that I was younger, I was approaching 18 back then, but the lessons I learnt then, are still golden today.
First of all, let me say categorically that failure happens to us all. In one way or another we encounter failure, not once, not twice. If you ever meet a man who has never failed, I think it either just hasn’t happened, or he had learnt early in life to call it a different name. In my particular case, I was so shaken that I fell ill. That season still marks the lowest point in my life, as I have not had any illnesses necessitating injections since then. I felt disappointed in myself, I felt disappointed on behalf of those who expected more from me. I cried and almost misplaced one of the chips on my shoulder. Between all those events that day though, I also took some lessons away, which for me, are still core to my philosophy today.
1. Failure is never final. It always comes to pass. If you can ride the feeling through and ask real questions about what you really want. Chances are, what you failed in is not that significant after all.
2. The world doesn’t revolve around you. Many times what makes us feel so terrible is what we think other people will say. Face it, people don’t care so much about you. Yes some people might feel disappointed, some people might tell you to your face, but believe me, there is no one worth living your life for. Align your own objectives, and if your failings affect your big objective, try again more intelligently.
3. Life is not fair. There are going to be times you have done all the rule book says and you still will not win. There are times when you feel your returns are no where near your investments. Life doesn’t give 50 for 50, it gives 80 for 20. At the same time, no one enforces it to be unfair on you. If the coin of life is loaded on the head, then go for the head. The smartest guys are not the richest guys, the prettiest ladies are not the first ladies…and you may not always be able to explain why.
4. Failure is good food for resolve. One of the best things that can happen to you in life is to fail, and develop a resolve from that failure. To tell yourself, “Never again!” When you add the force of resolution to your life, it distinguishes you from the crowd. How many times have we seen exceptional 3rd class graduates stunning society, how many times have college drop outs become significant to industry. If the world’s system has failed you before, you have an option of accepting the result or proving that system wrong with your life.
5. No one has the last say on you. It might have been your school that failed you, it might have been your boss, boyfriend or girlfriend that let you off. Circumstances might have made you feel you are not up to beat, good enough, or one of them. Whatever system told you, you failed, is just rendering it’s opinion. Who can rate you? Did they measure all of you, or just a test you did? Can they measure your ability to remember past events, to care, to love, to empathize, to sing, to dance, to dream, to write, to help, to cook to support, to lead, to make friends? What exactly did they measure, and what gives anybody the right to classify you. Move on friend, don’t languish in it, no one has the last say on you.
6. Failure has a bright side. No matter how dark it looks right now, it always has a bright side. Always! Later on in life you will see the value of that once bitter experience. If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you strong. Some day, you’ll look back and be happy that it happened then, else, this wouldn’t have happened now.
7. What counts is your own judgment. Whichever way you decide to look at this, is what matters most. If this event makes you scared to try again or renews your resolve to “never again”. How you judge yourself is critical. You can see yourself as on a journey and just running through a bump, or at crossroads heading the wrong way. Failing, no matter how many times does not make one a failure, until one judges oneself to be.
I remember a book I once read, “I got fired, and that was the best thing that ever happened to me”. This book chronicled giants in society whose spring board for excellence in life was failure! For some of them, you have watched their movies (Harry Porter), read their books (Ian Coker), enjoyed their fantasy (Walt Disney). Who says failing can’t be the best thing that happened to you?
I failed before, many times, and I’m proud of every one of them, because without those stories, there can be no glories.