The Fringe Benefits of Failure
During exploration term (a mini-semester in January) at Birmingham-Southern College, I took a course titled, "The Fringe Benefits of Failure." The class was named after a commencement address J.K. Rowling (who penned the bestselling Harry Potter novels) gave to Harvard graduates. The e-term class focused on entrepreneurship and failure.
Lo and behold, the business course did not teach us how to be successful, or how to create successful startups by maximizing profit.
Instead, we took a much broader focus on entrepreneurship by examining the benefits of taking risks, how to benefit from failure, and ultimately how to recover from it.
The course even taught us more about life because failure applies to life just as much as it does to businesses or entrepreneurs.
Society has taught us that there are no benefits to failure. I’m here to tell you that this is FALSE.
The millennial generation was taught that losing is bad, and that failure is not acceptable. They call us the “trophy winners” because every kid got one, regardless of whether we were on the losing or winning team.
Contrary to societal norms, we learned that it is beneficial in the long term to take chances – and it is even alright to fail, in any aspect of life. Here are some of the many benefits of failure, a few personal stories, and plenty of other fun things…
1. Picking yourself up from failure makes for a great story later.
“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” – J.K. Rowling
If you fail at something – brush yourself off. Keep hustling. Do better next time.
In her address, Rowling recounts, “I was the biggest failure I knew.”
After her success, the press chalked her failure up as a fairy-tale ending.
Moral: a story of failure and rebounding from that failure trumps a story of success. So, do not let failure keep you at rock bottom. Keep trying, and let rock bottom be the foundation on which you improve upon next time.
2. Have the courage to take risks.
According to older generations, we never attempt to fail because A) we never try, or B) never give 110%; instead, we give less than our all, so that if we fail, then we have an excuse as to why we failed.
Contrary to this popular notion, I believe Millennials do challenge the status quo and take risks. All we need is to be taught the benefits of taking risks, how to benefit from failure, and ultimately how to recover from it. An ounce of encouragement and inspiration along the way would not hurt either.
3. Be vulnerable and authentic.
Rare is it that when you ask someone how they are doing do they say, "Bad. Very Bad. I’m struggling with x, y, and z.” Instead, you probably hear, “Good. How about yourself?”
The truth of the matter is that everyone has dark days here and there. Everyone. But many folks, including myself, are unwilling to be honest and transparent about it. We’ll cover it up, and act like we have our lives together because we think that is how we should portray ourselves to others.
If we're not willing to talk about our difficulties and mistakes openly, though – then we’ll never be able to accept them and move forward.
Authenticity and honesty are two things that will make this world become an entirely different place. It could make failure and challenging days feel less taxing and daunting and perhaps easier to tackle.
4. Value imagination.
A few things here…
1. Always, always, always choose to exercise your imagination.
2. Never close your heart or your mind.
3. Allow yourself to let your imagination run wild; it could lead you to discovering your passions and purpose.
5. Follow those passions.
Follow your own dreams, not those of your parents.
My father wanted me to go into the armed service after high school. I, on the other hand, had (and still have) no interest in joining. I have much respect to those who have or will fight – but the military is not where I felt called.
For Rowling, her parents wanted her to obtain a vocational degree. They never thought her imagination would help her pay a mortgage. On graduation day, the parents realized she didn’t take that route. Instead, she followed her passions and ended up dirt poor post-college.
Here's the thing though -- it was imagination, positivity, and a middle finger to the prospect of failure that allowed her to become one of the wealthiest and most influential women in the world.
And of course, the rest is history.
If she would have been too afraid to follow her passions though and took the easy, safe route, we would not know her as the author of the timeless Harry Potter series.
6. Measure success correctly.
In spite of this talk of failure, it is still necessary that we address the concept of success. Though many of us know people who we think have achieved it, not a lot of us have figured out how we ought to measure it definitively, and that needs to change.
1. Find unique ways to impact other peoples’ lives, and have a willingness to go beyond your borders and comfort zone to reach that goal.
2. Ultimately, measure success by the number of lives you have positively impacted.
Some 800 words later, I am thoroughly impressed that you are still reading. But since you are – I hope you’ve realized there are many, many benefits to failure, contrary to the remarks of society. We must first have the courage to take risks, give 110%, pick ourselves up (if we do fall down), and keep hustling. Finally, you don’t need magic to achieve success.
What stories of failure do you have?