It is Okay to Fail
Failure — A word that has many different meanings, many different connotations and many different interpretations. Failure is used for individuals, organisations, products, experiences and actions.
Failure and Success are two sides of the same coin.
Both are relative to one another. One person can be seen to have failed because they did not succeed. Another person can be seen to have succeeded because they did not fail. With understanding failure and putting it into context, success means nothing. Success has to be in relation to someone or something else. We have succeeded because another person did not succeed or failed.
Failure is understood and interpreted in different ways by people who are faced with failure and by those who know the individual. It is handled in different ways by the person who is faced with failure. Failure is analysed by people who observe and comment upon the person who has failed.
We say that failure is painful and that it causes emotional turmoil and upset, and inflicts agonizing pangs of guilt, regret, and remorse. But those who have experienced true failure, and have bounced back from it, understand that failure is necessary for success. Yes of course, failing hurts. In fact, it cuts deep like a razor, slicing its way to our inner core. Yet, it is necessary.
Very seldom has anyone attempted to get to understand the reason for failure or the impact of failure.
No one thinks of the impact on the person who has failed or is likely to fail. Everyone observing the failure is quick to pass judgement on the failure and the person who has failed. Everyone has a reason, their own interpretation, of why the failure has happened.
I have often wondered why Indian parents are so ambitious for their children and what is it that we are always trying to achieve through our children? Is it our own unachieved ambitions or is it a genuine desire to see our children succeed and prosper in the very competitive environment that is so prevalent in our country? What prompts us to first determine that some jobs are good and what empowers us as parents to decide what we think is good for our children?
Parents have a big role to play. Most parents from the developing World teach their children the importance to “win”. They want us to come “first” in class. To be at the front of the pack. To get ahead. All this without considering the impact this would have on the thinking of their children. My parents told me this and I told the same to my sons. As I look back, I know this was a mistake.
This repeated reinforcement by our parents and elders manifests itself into our behaviour patterns in society.
The oldest and strongest emotion of human beings is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. Have we ever wondered why all of us seem to have an identical set of values when it comes to looking at ourselves in similar situations? Is this behaviour happening because of our fear of failure?
We love Success! Nobody wishes to fail. We are embarrassed even if we commit a silly mistake.
We can relate with stories of success from our scriptures. Stories of the triumph of good over evil in the Ramayana. Stories of The Mahabharata, where Lord Krishna asks Arjun to fight and win the battle because that is his duty. Stories from the Bible of David and Goliath, Moses parting the Red Sea and the legend of Saint John slaying the Dragon.
We never remember stories of failures or disasters. There are plenty. We do not remember the villains in these scriptures. There are many.
We expect success from ourselves and from others. We celebrate success. We strive for success. We encourage one another towards success. We hold success in high regard. Our entire mind-set is wired towards success which is the goal. We are constantly bombarded with ideas about success. Our movies glorify success and generally have a happily ever after fairy tale like ending.
Our bookshelves are filled with magazines, journals and writings on ‘How to be Successful’, ‘Keys to Success,’ ‘Secrets of Successful People,’ and so on.
I am not suggesting that pursuing success is a wrong. Success is good. However, focusing only on success is incomplete if we do not talk about failure and how to face it.
Nobody wants to talk about failure. We do not like failure. We hate it so much that we even scorn those who fail. Even worse, we tend to dislike ourselves when we fail.
Failure is a part of life and everyone has faced failure. The manner in which each person handles failure is different.
Failure is and always will be unexpected, unavoidable, uncomfortable and universal. We need to understand how to face it. More importantly, we must understand how we can use failure as a force of change.
Do not fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things.
I have often said that we must not reach the end of our life’s journey with three regrets.
1. I could have done this, but I did not.
2. I might have done this, but I did not.
3. I should have done this, but I did not.
We must remember that sorrow is a part of everyone’s life but the bigger blessing we have is that we have the strength and ability to forget our sorrows and move on.
The same applies to failure.
Failure must be a teacher for each one of us. And we must be grateful to this teacher. As someone commented “Failure is a comma, not a full stop”. This too shall pass.
At the same time, we must remember that repeated failure is not acceptable. Failure cannot be a romantic notion.
“To err is human, but if the eraser wears out before the pencil, you are overdoing it.”