What Everybody Ought To Know About Failure

Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really: Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, so go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that’s where you will find success.
— Thomas J. Watson
Hiding from failure

What Everybody Ought To Know About Failure

There is an unruly two-year-old creative inside all of us. Mine pushes me to write and reflect on the chaos of my merry-go-round of thoughts. I'm like anyone else, there's no real rhyme or reason to what I'm thinking at times. I'll beat myself up, struggle with unrealistic expectations and worry that I'm a failure. I hadn't realized this internal battle happens to everyone who identifies as human until I started opening up.

Failure comes from an easy-to-follow recipe that's a party favourite. Throw in a dash of worry, a tablespoon of regret, and water down any flavour with your internal battle with fear. It basically marinades your entire life until you wake up and decide I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired. Has that moment happened for you yet?

I'll be the first to say, it's a critical part of development to explore the unknown. But not at the expense of ignoring your intuition. If I listened to my teachers growing up, I sure as hell wouldn't be writing a blog. They criticized my style, challenged my narrative and made me think I had no business writing. There's a good chance you feel the same. 

Yet there was a time when you were basically a bloody Picasso. Relatives clamoured to adorn their fridges with your edgy take on family portraits. Why is everyone's head so huge? Is there a reason the cat is bigger than Mom?

What happened? Why did you stop? Don't worry, it's not your fault. Creativity is squashed early in an attempt to make a conformer out of you. You spend your entire teenage life attempting to be like everyone else. God forbid you're different. That would make you weird – until you wake up to the realization that weird is good. Weird is different. Weird is exciting. Weird gives you an unmistakable advantage. 

There's no such thing as a kid who isn't creative. Prove me wrong. Because I'm sure your Mom would be over the moon psyched to spend an entire day walking me through your shrine of masterpieces. 

You're led to believe that creativity is scary and not everyone possesses the ability. You're better off avoiding creativity because the risk of failure is all but certain, a common belief of those afraid to swing for the fences.

Gone are the days of the jack-of-all-trades. The world doesn't need a workforce of minions who are kind-of-good at a whole bunch of things. We need creatives that are incredible problem solvers, who aren't afraid of a wrong answer. School is good at stoking your belief that failure is bad.

You got an A? Yippee. You can follow directions. Go build this widget until we replace you with a robot. You failed? Now we're talking. You're not only thinking different but acting different. Each of us needs people to challenge our narratives and smash our limiting beliefs, so we can rebuild belief systems that serve us and the greater good.

Just as Einstein pleaded when he wrote an open letter to the New York Times in May, 1946, "Our world faces a crisis as yet unperceived by those possessing power to make great decisions for good or evil. The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe. We scientists who released this immense power have an overwhelming responsibility in this world life-and-death struggle to harness the atom for the benefit of mankind and not for humanity's destruction. We need a nationwide campaign to let people know that a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.

Now is not the time to stop asking questions. Did you really need to know (insert long list of things you learned that you were told were important but you still have no idea when you'll use it and you're 34 years old)? I'm guessing there's more than one class where you wondered why the hell am I learning this? 

The irony of formal schooling is that it turns you off lifelong learning. A growing number of people don't pick up a book after they graduate. School made learning dull and boring. They tell you what to think and criticize you for thinking outside of the box.

That's because they expect you to be a cog in the machine. This is not my lame-ass attempt at a Matrix reference. I'm telling the bona fide truth. Read Seth Godin's Manifesto Stop Stealing Dreams and you'll never look at school the same. A hundred and fifty years ago, adults were incensed about child labour. Low-wage kids were taking jobs away from hard-working adults. Large-scale education was not developed to motivate kids or to create scholars. It was invented to churn out adults who worked well within the system. Scale was more important than quality, just as it was for most industrialists. Factory owners insisted that losing child workers would be catastrophic to their industries and fought hard to keep the kids at work — they said they couldn’t afford to hire adults. It wasn’t until 1918 that nationwide compulsory education was in place. This changed the entire landscape of the world and yet today’s system is nearly identical to 1918.

Most power-hungry people think they know what's best for the common good. They assume you're too stupid to figure it out for yourself. They've taken the liberty of choosing for you. Hell, they'll even tell you which job you'll work so you don't mess things up for them. Cuz I mean, who really wants to decide what they want to do with their own life? 

Magic happens when you explore the edges of the status quo with your career. Ever meet someone like that? It's inspiring. But you know who are rarely in these positions? People who let others make their decisions for them because they assume that's the way it has to be.

There are no rules, except the limiting ones you create for yourself, like I can't do that because (insert limiting belief) or people like me don't do that because (insert assumption). Those patterns create your fear.

If we all acted from the tiny amount of knowledge we have about the world, there's not a chance in hell we'd have footprints on the moon

But that means embracing failure and recognizing that we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

Vince Vaughn talks to Sam Jones about how challenges can lead to growth.