The Beauty of Failure
WE ALL HAVE FEAR
I am terrified of surgery, being stuck under water, and cockroaches. I’m also afraid of failure. I am currently a student at Clemson University, and for students, failure is the “F-word.” However, I have been learning recently that failure is inevitable. That we will fail; we should fail. Avoiding failure is avoiding opportunity.
A study of gender trends in 1,000 companies by the recruitment specialists Talentful, found that only 54 of these companies had female CEOs. One possible cause of this gap is the mindset that women have when applying to jobs. Women typically apply for a job only if they meet 100% of the qualifications, while men will apply even if they meet just 60% of them. At first this was interpreted to be because women do not possess as much faith in their own abilities as men do. This belief was investigated through a study by the Harvard Business Review, where they found different answers than previously assumed. One of the top reasons women indicated that they did not apply was, “I didn’t think they would hire me since I didn’t meet the qualifications and I didn’t want to put myself out there if I was likely to fail.” These findings bring up an interesting perspective on how avoiding failure can limit us in the workplace. However, failure avoidance in the workplace is not something that only women should be aware of, as it can affect men as well.
Failure is a part of the development process. Avoiding failure can be a product of personal insecurity, because people do not want to hurt their pride or seem insignificant. It is far easier to follow others or to stay with a job that is unsatisfying than it is to face rejection or the possibility of appearing foolish. Helen Keller said, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature… Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” This well-known quote beautifully explains how life should have some risks and is never truly secure, even if we want it to be. However, most people don’t know the rest of the quote. Keller continued, “To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.” In other words, failure is not a sign of weakness, but rather, embracing uncertainty is a sign of courage and strength.
VALUE = RISK
Anything that has value in it is accompanied by risk. Milton Hershey had to take a risk when he left the candy factory he worked for to go out on his own. Not only did he fail once, his attempts failed three times before he successfully created Hershey’s Chocolate. Hershey is not alone in this; Stephen King’s first book Carrie was rejected 30 times before the writer was published and yet he has said, “There is no gain without risk, perhaps no risk without love.” Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper because he wasn’t creative enough, and as if that wasn’t enough, his fledgling company was about to sink when he took a risk with Mickey Mouse, a character that most of the people around him didn’t like.
YOUR REACTION IS EVERYTHING
Failing over and over is not going to miraculously make someone great. It is the attitude we use to respond to the failures that makes all the difference. It is important to be in a growth mindset, believing we can improve and develop. If Hershey, King, or Disney had given up after their attempts, their efforts would have been in vain and the world would have been poorer because of it.
I have seen my own fear of failure displayed when I am developing an idea. I am a creative, “big picture” type of person, with many ideas that I get excited about. But sometimes it is hard for me to carry these things out because I am afraid of the plan falling on its face. I sometimes would rather not try than put time and energy into an idea to have it come to nothing.
Recently, my sister and I wanted to make t-shirts with a design I created, and give some of the money to International Justice Mission, an organization that fights to aid and protect victims of violence in developing countries. It was scary because I was worried people wouldn’t like the shirts, we would end up wasting time and energy, and risk the embarrassment of failing. Once I got over myself and made them, we sold a good amount of shirts! It made me realize that even if people didn’t buy them, I would be missing an opportunity if I was too afraid to put the things I make out there. With maturity, I hope to be able to better discern which ideas are worth pursuing and to not be afraid to take the risk of chasing what I feel confident about.
Mary Alexander is a Winston-Salem local who is studying Graphic Communications at Clemson University, with a minor in art.