I think the most important skill in life might be facing failure, defeat, and criticism.
So much of life’s training is about how to win and how to achieve success. Not nearly enough focus is placed on how to fail and then continue.
We should be teaching young people three main things:
- Do your best to accomplish great things
- If you’re not failing, you’re not trying great enough things
- Failure is a sign that you’re doing something worthwhile
Of course we should caution that there are different types of failure. We don’t want people to be a failure. We want them to attempt difficult things and then be ok if it doesn’t work out.
There’s a big difference, but it’s pretty intuitive once you describe it.
What I see in most people of all ages, is:
These people were told early and often that the worst thing that can happen is failure at a task or activity, and it’s an absolutely poisonous lesson.
This belief creates frightened and mediocre people who are virtually guaranteed to be the staff for people who believe the opposite.
The more I read, the more I see people who simply didn’t give a fuck. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they doubt themselves. But either through some friendly encouragement, or a white-hot internal source, they shake off the doubt and say the most powerful words in any language:
I don’t care what they say. I don’t care what they think. I believe in myself and I’m the only fan I need.
That’s power. That’s how you succeed. Not by not failing, but by seeing failure as an inevitable badge of honor on the way to victory.
I think there are two pieces to this, though, and I don’t want to ignore the first.
You first have to believe in something. You need to create something, or champion something, and truly embrace it.
This is hard on its own, especially if you’ve been told that type of thing was only for the smart people, and that you’re just a regular person.
Screw those who tell people that. By telling people that you make it true. You don’t know what someone’s capable of until you expect them to impress you. Because they just might.
So we have to tell people they can be anything and do anything, within reason. That’s the first part.
And then, once people believe they can do something, that’s when this second part kicks in. They have to drive on through the haters, the naysayers, and the critics. They have to push through adversity and repeated mistakes and stumbles.
Let the heat of the idea take you through.
And remember that failure is the sign that you’re doing something worthwhile. Not always, but usually. There are times when failure is telling you to do something else. But that’s fine. No problem with changing directions or following another passion.
But don’t ever—ever ever—let failure dampen passion itself.
If you see the world differently. If you think the idea was flawed, not because of criticism but because of actual new insight that you agree with, then that’s fine. Readjust and move to something else.
But never stop. Never quit.
If you get overwhelmed from time to time, take some time to be sad. Cry a bit. Punch a bag. Take some walks. Dial up some friends.
Soak in your negative feelings for a day or three.
But use that negativity like a spring that’s being compressed into its next glorious bounce.
Remember these words. Read this again. No matter where you are in the cycle: the downturn, or at the bottom, or on the way back up:
You’re fucking awesome.
I know this, and you do too.
Having ideas is awesome. Having a cause is awesome. Having passion is awesome. These are what separate regular people from great people.
Take your idea and run. Rejection and criticism are the knee-jerk reactions of the mediocre when faced with greatness.
Not all your ideas will be truly great, of course, but what is great is your commitment to pursuing them despite opposition.
This is what makes great people.
- Have ideas and/or causes
- Pursue them passionately
- Treat adversity and failure as fuel
Be great. I know you can be.
- Image from crosswalk.com.