But What if You Fail?

defeat failure humility


Growing is hard, and it takes more than a little faith that you've got what it takes to overcome the challenges in front of you.

For example, when I started promoting myself, I didn't see much success at first (things are still a bit slow). I thought I just wasn't cut out for it, or that it just wasn't going to happen for me. It seemed unfair that it should be so difficult for me when there are so many people for whom it came very easily.

The reason I got frustrated was that I thought the problem was external to me: promotion is hard. I didn't recognize that I had a lot to learn. I didn't accept that I was simply not good at it yet, and that I was a rank amateur.

When I realized that, I still wasn't okay with being an amateur. I did not accept my place as a learner, so I could never learn and be comfortable with the learning process, which includes failure sometimes.

Once I accepted that I am in the position of a learner, someone who doesn't know what he is doing, someone who must make mistakes to learn, then two things happened:

  1. I felt comfortable with the results I was getting
  2. I started learning faster because I wasn't afraid to make mistakes; I figured out they were actually useful.


There's a lot of inspirational pep talk here on Warrior Spirit. Many self-help books and inspiration blogs also encourage us to reach for our goals and take big changes, trusting that we have what it takes all the time, despite our fears, which are overblown, after all.

But, as Dr. Seuss points out, sometimes we won't succeed. Sometimes we don't have what it takes, because it's our first time in unfamiliar territory. We took a step into an established community with our chest all puffed up, challenged the leaders, and got shot down (or, worse, laughed down). We find ourselves lacking because we fail to recognize our place, which is that of a learner.

We cannot learn unless we acknowledge that we don't have all the answers. We cannot grow and adapt unless we accept that we aren't already capable of handling whatever challenge we face.

That is the definition of adaptation, after all: finding a way to overcome a challenge that proved too much in the past.

So, in order to grow, we need to accept that we are not All That, that's we've got a ways to go, and that we are going to fail and mess up. These things will happen, and if we are not ready to accept them, we are liable to just throw in the towel and quit.

What to Do When We Fail

My biggest fear right now is that after all the work writing and promoting my little book, nobody will download it. I followed the advice of a lot of inspiring bloggers and lifestyle designers I respect and admire. They said, if you jump, a net will appear. They said that the fear of failure is overblown, and that more often than not, things work out.

But what if they don't?

Nobody tells us how to deal with crushing defeat. Nobody explains the next step, because the point of failure is that, even when you did everything right, the ground fell out from under you. There is no next step, because you've fallen off the staircase to success.

You are left behind.

A lot of the people who push us to excel don't even want to admit that anybody following their advice could fail or that things might conspire against them. They brush those left behind under the rug and hope nobody else asks questions.

Well, I'll take a stab at a next step.

The next step is to accept failure, embrace it, and start working your way out of it. Every failure is unique, and we all respond to it in our own unique way, so getting out (unslumping ourselves, as Dr. Seuss would put it) takes some creativity. There is no map out; that's what makes it so devastating.

It takes faith to believe you can try again and succeed the second time. It takes courage to do the work despite looming obstacles, never truly certain you'll measure up when you have to face them. To believe you can succeed after you failed once is the most difficult thing in life, but that's what defines character.

The only thing to do is accept that we messed up or thing just didn't work out so that we can start over. Until we actually embrace that we are on the ground, lost, we cannot even begin to move forward.

And that is when we grow into something greater than we were.


Back to my D&D setting. After thinking about it for a bit, I realized there were a lot of problems with the first edition. To treat it like the final product was arrogant. It had been a work in progress, and here was a chance to make that progress.

I figured if I had written it once I could write it again. There had been too much creativity in there to just let it pass away unnoticed.

So I sat down, and I started a new history of the same world. I wrote feverishly (broke my spacebar) and redid the whole thing in a day.

And you know what? The new one was better. It became the foundation for a rich, elaborate storytelling setting that inspired me and others for years. It had a unique flavor that the original lacked, and it was even longer (70 pages).

I had learned from my previous attempt and, more importantly, I accepted that it could be simply a learning experience and not the end-all-be-all of my writing career.

We must remember to approach all of our life that way. Everything can be a learning experience.

We're never good enough that what we do is pristine and perfect, an ultimate END-product. After all, an End means we have nothing more to do. Instead, we must live life for growth.

If we can accept that, we can keep producing great things.

(Photo credit: Xbeckie boox on Flickr)