Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour…

Wise words from Truman Capote. Words we all need to remember, remind ourselves . . .  and in particular, pass onto our children and generations below us.

I’ve been asked to mentor a workshop to a group of uni students, on ‘Failure and Resilience’ and when I read this quote on Instagram today, it reminded me how important it is, first and foremost, to provide an ‘environment’ we feel safe to fail in … so that eventually, with experience, we may succeed. Whatever success may mean to someone.

It has also made me think of how I viewed ‘failure’ when I was young and how the environment we live in today has impacted on young people’s notions of the concept.

The education system is becoming increasingly concerned with the mental health of our youth (as are we!) and the pressure they feel from the environment they are growing up in. The pressure to ‘be the best’ at everything you do – your grades, your looks, what you eat, your body, start a business by the time your 25 (and be selling it for millions before you’re 30!), buy a home, be socially responsible for ‘just the right’ causes, be ‘in love’, have thousands of friends who all follow you on social media… and to top it all off… make sure you take videos and pics of all of it so that everyone can see and validate your amazingness!

Obviously, the biggest difference for those in Gen X and above, is that the internet and social media did not play the role (or any role!) in our youth, that it does for Gen Y and Z now. So this makes for a very different environment. I don’t think life was any ‘easier’ for us, but our lives were definitely more private. Concepts like reality TV, Vlogging, Instagram and Facebook , Snapchat and You Tube have made everyone a voyeur, and as a result, we start to judge our own lives and journeys, against those we constantly ‘watch and follow’.

This affects people’s ideals and beliefs greatly, if they are not confident and secure enough to see these mediums for what they are – a marketing and validation tool. They are carefully curated for their audience. Like a movie… they are often based on ‘real life’… but they are adapted for the screen to enhance viewer enjoyment! And youth seems to be getting older too (!!), as I see this affecting people right up to their late 30’s – a little worrying!

This is creating an environment for young people, where they are so desperately afraid to fail, as they believe the (supposedly) successful people they are surrounded by, never do.

They are surrounded by apparent gurus, that will ensure they ‘don’t fail’, on social media too. Business and life coaches who have gained their credentials  – errrrr… by being on social media and being influencers?!!!! Really?!!!

What is ‘failure’ though?

We first start to hear the word fail when we are at school – we either ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ a test. A fail is meant to be an indication we need help, so that we can improve and with support, we can pass. A basic principle – but one that gets very distorted. The word comes with such nasty connotations – it singles people out and makes them feel inferior. But how ridiculous – we can’t be good at everything, so maybe failing something is just a way of making us focus on something we are less confident with and getting better at it, with time and practice. Or a way of prompting change, refocusing our efforts on something we are better at, something we enjoy more and that brings us more happiness.

As Mr Capote says – what we learn from failure, is that when we succeed, it only tastes better. It’s an ingredient in the recipe – not the final dish. Failure is also experience – lived and learned experience we bottle up and use, every time we create a new, improved recipe.

This should be the environment we raise young people in – to be willing to learn from failure, to be wrong sometimes and then to learn from it. But we have to provide the right environment for this – educators, parents, friends, family and employers. We have to allow them the ‘space’ to fail, to not be perfect at everything and to try things they may not succeed at. We don’t seem to do this anymore.

Failure is not a permanent condition – it is just one of the steps in our journey. Failure teaches us resilience. It teaches us to have ‘grit’. And when we possess grit – we truly chart our own journey without the burden of others judgment or opinion.

I’ve changed paths in my career several times and on a couple of occasions, because things ‘weren’t working’. It wasn’t always easy, but I’ve learnt from every new path and built an enormous knowledge base and an even more rewarding career. I’ve been divorced and many people see broken relationships as ‘failure’ and become very bitter. This is utterly wasted energy in my opinion – broken relationships happen for so many reasons. We need to learn from them and move on to greener pastures. Who cares what others think – and those that ‘think’ out loud, are usually the ones hiding something themselves anyway!

When I was told I had a brain tumour, I struggled with fears of failure. I was so fit and healthy, what had I done wrong? But time and a lot of ‘grit’, has taught me to embrace everything I learnt from this experience and use it to be happier than I have ever been. It would only have been a failure if it had made me a negative person and afraid of life- no matter how bad the outcome may have been. I see my health journey as a great big success – no matter where it ends up. Apart from my daughter, it’s my greatest success, as it’s taught me more than anything else in my life.

Not being afraid of failure, means not being afraid of trying.

As our genius friend, Albert Einstein said –  You never fail until you stop trying.


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