Who doesn’t enjoy success? It feels amazing to accomplish our goals and reap the rewards of our efforts. From proverbial victory laurels and that general feel-good inner glow that comes with triumph, to tangible results like a big payday, trophies, and public recognition, success is naturally easy to celebrate.
As a result, humans have developed a lot of coping mechanisms to comfort ourselves — some healthy, some less so — when we don’t succeed. Idioms like “Nobody bats a thousand” and “You can’t win ’em all” are repeated frequently because they are true. We are all fallible mortals, and making peace with failure, or perhaps even more crucial, embracing the important but painful lessons it brings, is how we learn, improve, and grow. This quite often leads us to success, in time, of course.
And that leads us to the International Day for Failure, an informal holiday marked on October 13 — which, funnily enough, happens to fall on a Friday the 13th this year.
The celebration was first launched by Finnish university students in 2010, according to Culture Trip. The Scandinavian country has high standards for success, a point of national pride but one that the students felt was holding their peers back.
They reasoned that thousands of new businesses and jobs would be needed in the future they faced, but a strong cultural bias against failure and uncertainty was preventing people from taking the necessary risks one invariably encounters when founding a new company or pursuing a dream career.
By its second year, the International Day for Failure had been embraced by some influential Finns — from Angry Birds creator Peter Vesterbacka to the coach of the men’s national ice hockey team — and it began to spread globally soon after.
Experts agree that failure is an inevitable part of life, and that learning from failure is a crucial life skill, but that can be easier said than done. Read on for five ways to reframe your perspective on failure.
Approach failure as a very necessary part of developing excellence.
Failure is part of an important process we call trial and error. It’s only through failure that we learn what not to do, and how not to make the same mistakes over and over again. And that’s true for all facets of life, from romantic relationships to jobs.
As Thomas Edison is said to have proclaimed: “I have not failed 10,000 times — I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” (If you’re in the mood for more life lessons revolving around Edison, check out “7 Epic Fails Brought to You By The Genius Mind of Thomas Edison” from Smithsonian Magazine.)
Failure builds resilience.
Consider this example provided by psychologist Nigel Barber in Psychology Today:
“The conventional view is that someone with a near-perfect GPA will become a near-perfect employee. Yet, there is a glaring flaw in this reasoning. A straight-A student is not a perfect person but someone who has never done badly in a course. This means that they have never really been tested. If they have not been tested to the extent of receiving at least some weak grades, then they have also missed out on learning to cope with failure. Such individuals tend to be perfectionists, and this trait is associated with diminished resilience in response to failure.”
“Diminished resilience” is certainly not anything that anyone should wish for, given how crucial resilience is when navigating the inevitable challenges and complexities of life. Acknowledging that when you inevitably face failure can be comforting and help you move forward.
Consider the relationship between failure and innovation.
A massive part of what inspires a fear of failure is a fear of being seen as a failure by others, which prompts many of us to play it safe. And to even stray outside the confines of social norms or societal pressures can have a social and psychological impact that may feel like failure.
Conversely, to step mindfully into discomfort around following your instincts, even if no one else understands you at the time, can lead to the types of innovation that trailblazing visionaries are celebrated for … down the line, anyway.
Consider where you are turning for your definitions of success and failure in the first place, and recognize that those definitions may not be the right ones for you. In the end, after all, we are all the writers of our own stories.
Embrace the accumulation of wisdom that stems from your failures.
In “The Surprising Benefits of Failure,” a piece by Paul Koulogeorge for Forbes, the author shares his experience of having lost $10 million dollars when previously employed in brand management by Kraft Foods. During his tenure there, though, Koulogeorge said that he also learned more than he would have in any other job.
Failure begets wisdom, and wisdom is both a worthwhile prize and a vital stepping stone to success.
Look at failure as fuel.
The lessons we learn from experiencing failure can be exactly what fuels us to eventual greatness, as demonstrated by researchers at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University
In a 2019 study from professors Dashun Wang and Benjamin Jones and former postdoctoral researcher Yang Wang, the trio analyzed various scientists, comparing those who had narrowly missed out on a prestigious federal grant with those who narrowly qualified for it. They found that those who didn’t get the grant eventually published more successful papers than their counterparts a decade later. In other words, that particular failure would be the very thing that pushed them harder to succeed.
“Failure is devastating,” Wang said, “and it can also fuel people.”Looking for more ways to get into that crucial “embracing failure” mindset? Check out this glorious collection of TED Talks on the subject for additional inspiration.