Why (Some) Failures Get Ahead In Life

Written by Paul on May 31st, 2008

This is the sixth in a series of posts about the lessons I wish I’d learned earlier in life.

I’ll admit it, I’m a perfectionist. I spend way too much time trying to make sure that everything is just right (read: perfect) before I show it to anyone. Besides the fact that I waste precious time beating myself up over trivial things, I’ve learned that there is a huge benefit to pushing things out quickly to see if they even work. It’s called the art of failing fast.

What was I thinking?

A fascinating New York Times article on the many errors in thinking about mistakes explains why we all tend to avoid mistakes in the first place:

We grow up with a mixed message: making mistakes is a necessary learning tool, but we should avoid them.

The problem is the vast majority of us (myself included) were probably raised this way, so encouraging us to embrace failure is – gasp!! – blasphemy. Get over it.

The same article continues:

“We get fixated on achievement,” he said, but, “everyone is talking about the need to innovate. If you already know the answer, it’s not learning. In most personal and business contexts, if you avoid the error, you avoid the learning process.

Here’s what you can do today: Recognize that old habits die hard and make the decision to be more open to — or less afraid of — making mistakes. Then, just get started.

Feel free to email me if you need some extra motivation, I’m always happy to help.

Image Credit: twenty_questions

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4 Responses to “Why (Some) Failures Get Ahead In Life”

  • Samir

    I never thought about failing as being a good thing, but your post has shed some light on why failing or I guess acting faster than usual can actually be good. Like you I am pretty meticulous with what I do, so it is hard to just do things “half-assed”. I will take your advice, try it out when possible, and see what happens. Honestly I can see this as being a habit that will be extremely hard for me to break, more so since personally I get annoyed when someone does something “half-assed”.

    — 05/31/08 at 9:05 pm

  • Samir

    I was thinking of this post last night because I was actually reading Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture”. There is a section where he mentions how he encourages students to fail, since they learn form their mistakes, thus making them have a greater chance at succeeding the next time. Paush noted that those who tend to fail are usually those who more than likely are willing to think outside of the box.

    — 06/02/08 at 6:31 pm

  • Hi,

    Embracing failure is part of succeeding. However, our school systems doesn’t encourage that, when we fail at school, we are labelled as stupid.

    Failing so many times is good because if you fail again, it doesn’t affect you that much and you probably have nothing to lose.

    I am glad i came to realize this at a young age.
    Btw, you got a great site! keep it up!

    — 08/16/09 at 10:59 pm

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