Can failure be a good thing?
Can Failure Be a Good Thing?
"Failure is success in progress." – Albert Einstein
In our highly competitive world, we prize success and scorn failure, but is there value in failing?
Often, in interview situations, adults are asked questions such as: "What was your biggest professional failure?", “What is your biggest flaw?”. We often prefer not to expose our vulnerable side or our true weaknesses, we sometimes try to twist the question, saying that our biggest flaw is that we work too hard, or care too much. The interviewer in such a situation is trying to see if the candidate has the humility and honesty to admit that he or she failed, or if they have the ability to bounce back and learn from their mistakes, and the courage to move forward.
Failure should not be a mark of shame. All successful people have overcome failure: Steve Jobs was fired from the Macintosh division of Apple, J.K. Rowling was turned down 12 times by publishers for her Harry Potter manuscript, Decca Records turned down the Beatles, and Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first newscaster job because it was felt that she had become too emotionally involved in her stories. Oprah Winfrey is now famous for, and hailed for being ‘emotionally involved’.
When Irish author Flann O'Brien submitted the manuscript for his second book, The Third Policeman, to a London publisher in 1940, it was rejected. Rather than admit this lack of success to his friends, he pretended that the manuscript had accidentally blown out of the boot of his car on a trip to Donegal and had been lost forever. This was a ruinous thing to say because he could not then turn around and say, 'Oh, I've found it again!', so the manuscript sat very openly on his sideboard until his death. The year after his death, his wife had it published to a keen reception. If he had been more open about his failure to get the book printed, he might have seen his work published within his lifetime. He allowed his single failure to limit to his success.
B.F. Skinner, a psychologist who had one of the biggest impacts on education, was an advocate for positive reinforcement. Influenced by pioneers of conditioning such as Pavlov and Thorndike, he explored the theory that although negative reactions to failure alters behaviour, positive reactions to success greatly alters behaviour. Instead of punishing ourselves and others for failure, reward it, as a step towards success. Failure is an opportunity to change the way you do something. Famously, ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result’, but we only learn that we are doing something the wrong way is through failure. Without failure, we would all be insane.
Fear of failure is innate; it is an evolutionary device to keep us alive. But it works like training wheels on a bike, it is there to help us learn, but it limits our ability, and once we learn to act without it, can we then begin to ride at full speed.
In our highly competitive world, we prize success and scorn failure, but is there value in failing? Failure should not be a mark of shame. All successful people have overcome failure. Failure is an opportunity to change the way you do something. Fear of failure is innate; it is an evolutionary device to keep us alive. But it works like training wheels on a bike, it is there to help us learn, but it limits our ability, and once we learn to act without it, can we then begin to ride at full speed. So, if you are preparing for an interview, consider what it is that you have failed at the valuable lessons you learnt as a result.
By James Savile