Dealing with Failure

Photo by Nathan Dumlao

Photo by Nathan Dumlao

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 at Harvard's commencement ceremonies, Rowling recounts: “I was the biggest failure I knew.”

After her worldwide success with her Harry Potter series, the media 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, millennials never attempt to fail or take risks. 

Contrary to this popular notion, I believe millennials do challenge the status quo and take risks. More and more millennials are embracing the idea of entrepreneurship and founding startups and nonprofits that make a difference in the world every single day.

Taking risks, especially with your money and that of others, is a scary idea though. Putting it into practice is even more terrifying (speaking from experience... @thebitterstudent). It's a no brainer that millennials tend to shy away to more rational ideas like security and stability. Especially when you like to eat and have the luxury of a night out.

To make matters worse, we have people in our ear telling us millennials don't have the courage to take risks. 

So what can we do? We need to continue to emphasize the benefits of taking risks, how to benefit from failure, and ultimately how to recover from it. And inspire our fellow peers with an ounce or two of encouragement and inspiration if they do decide to walk this path of risk-taking. It's worth it in the long-run. 

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 XYZ.” Instead, you probably hear: “Good. How about yourself?”

The truth of the matter is that everyone has dark days here and there. Everyone. Many folks though, including myself, are unwilling to be honest and transparent about it some times. 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. Put together. 

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. Let's work towards it. 

4.    Value imagination.

A few things here:

  • Always, always, always choose to exercise your imagination.
  • Never close your heart or your mind.
  • 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.

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-grad. 

Again, not sure anyone (even millennials) likes the idea of risk-taking when it involves unemployment and not having enough money to feed yourself. 

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.

If she would have been too afraid to follow her passions though and take the easy, safe route, we would not know her as the author of the timeless Harry Potter series.

And, of course, the rest is history. 

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. That needs to change.

  • Find unique ways to impact other peoples’ lives, and have a willingness to go beyond your borders and comfort zone to reach that goal.
  • Ultimately, measure your success by the number of lives you have positively impacted - not with a dollar sign. 

Sam Campbell