As the class of 2020 Zooms across the stage to collect their virtual diplomas, may I offer some advice as you set off to find your pathway to success?
I didn’t say “be a failure.” Nor did I ask you to enjoy the experience of failing.
But if you want to find the most direct route to your greatest success…fail. Often.
By the way, we really need more than one word for failure. The fact that we use the same word (failure) for two very different life experiences leads to a great deal of confusion, shame and missed opportunities.
Passive failure. There is one kind of failure that results from someone putting forth little or no effort. You didn’t study for the test and failed. You made no sales calls and didn’t hit your quota and failed. You put zero thought or effort into a relationship, and it fails.
Passive failure has almost no virtue or value in it. The best thing you can hope for from passive failure is learning the negative life lesson that when you don’t try, things usually turn out badly.
But there is another kind of failure that comes after we’ve given something our best effort.
Let’s call this one “active failure.”
Active failure. What happens when a baby first begins to walk? Failure? Is rolling from your stomach to your back walking? Is rocking back and forth on your hands and knees walking? Is pulling up on a chair leg and standing erect for one or two seconds walking?
Of course not. Yet no one but the most cynical among us calls this “failing.” Baby is learning to walk. And gradual progress, repeated attempts and bumping your bottom are inevitable steps along the path to baby success (walking).
Somewhere between infancy and adulthood, most of us develop a phobia about failing.
Let’s be honest, the experience of failing is anything but fun. By definition, it is frustrating.
And yet, failure is the necessary first experience along the path to success. Big success, anyway.
I think one of the reasons so many of us fear failure is that we let it shape our identity (“I don’t want to be a failure…so I don’t try”). The ironic thing about that approach is that it inevitably produces what it so fearfully seeks to avoid. Failure.
Failure, done right, doesn’t define you. It refines you.
You can lower your sights so that in anything you attempt, you succeed the first time. If you set the high jump bar at two inches, you’ll probably never fail. But you’ll also never have an Olympic medal around your neck.
Life is dull, boring and meaningless unless you are pushing against your limits. And remember, they are your limits, not someone else’s. So, don’t hide behind the fact you can never be as (fill in the blank) as someone else. That is true for every human being alive today.
What do you wish you could do, but have never done until now? Play the piano, climb a mountain, learn another language, live in a foreign country, ride a horse, understand accounting, grow spiritually, get in good physical shape, earn a college degree, care for a foster child or become a master gardener?
Every one of these things (and a thousand more) require a process of learning, attempting, failing, adjusting and repeating the process.
Failure is a nonnegotiable stop on the road to success.
Class of 2020, I invite you to fail often on your own path to success.
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