How Failure Can Lead to Success
Failure, like success, is an important aspect of any well-lived life. Without failure, there aren’t goals to strive for, lessons to learn from, or hard truths to take in. Any life or project undertaken without an expectation for failure and a way of managing it is doomed to get jammed up or stuck. Ironically, it’ll fail without the ability to adapt.
It’s useful to take a look at some neatly packaged narrative slices of other failures that led to success later in life.
Many have failed prior to their success
Alexander Bell, the man given credit for inventing the telephone, consistently failed in bringing the critical pieces together. He worked on the design that he patented in 1876 for years, eventually growing frustrated – and understanding – that he lacked the electrical engineering knowledge to truly make it work.
If there is a goal, and no steps are ever made to try and bring that lofty idea to reality, there can never be insight to what is keeping it trapped. If Alexander Bell only tinkered or never strove to make his idea a reality, he never could have realized he was missing key knowledge.
His future-father-in-law’s colleague, a man named Joseph Henry who was fundamental in developing the telegraph due to his creation of the electromagnetic relay, heard about Alexander Bell’s work. Bell vented his frustration over lacking the electrical knowledge to bring his invention to the next phase, and Henry’s empathetic and encouraging words, “Then go get it!” encouraged Bell to keep working. Bell would luck into meeting an electrical engineer named Thomas Watson who helped him finally get the design ready to be patented in 1876.
A majority of innovations or projects are failures. A study from Northeastern University by Professor Fredrick Crane focused on this idea: “… innovation failure is the rule and not the exception… infrequent, clumsy, and often, ineffective.”
Without failure, we couldn’t advance
Understanding the roadblocks or obstacles can be enormous for helping surpass them, as well. Educational research, like that done by Professor Clark Chinn at Rutgers University, demonstrates a use of metacognition, where a student is asked to explain how they understood or worked through something, can highlight flaws or failings in the underlying teaching methods.
Crystal O’Connor believes very strongly in how bad experiences can be a launching point to success. She says, “I really do believe that hitting rock bottom early can actually be a benefit.” She was homeless and trying to attend community college after graduating, and eventually had to give up school to get off the street.
After landing a job, she got an apartment and went back to school several years later, and got married and had kids. By the time she was in her thirties, though, she was getting divorced and her business was going downhill from the recession. Instead of giving up in the face of adversity, she took the reins and positioned herself in a better place. She started blogging in 09 and eventually opened her own consulting business for entrepreneurs and other small business owners.
It’s the rule, not the exception
Everyone makes mistakes. Without the contrast between ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ there wouldn’t be any relative difference. Choice wouldn’t exist in any meaningful way – the concept behind freewill would be utterly useless. Decisions wouldn’t have impact, and there would be nothing to improve on in life or career.
Mistakes, or ‘bad’ choices reflect that sensation. That something went wrong. That it can be corrected, or at least, learned from. Lifelong learning is something that many advocate, but that seems to imply a kind of euphoric state where nothing goes wrong, everything is perfect, and no one hurts.
Life, and all its curveballs, always tries to dislodge that. Not just life, but dreams, will always be just beyond the horizon, just out of reach. Without goals to strive for or dreams to achieve, many people wouldn’t even wake up in the morning. It’s that last glimmer of hope that things are meaningful, they matter, and so do the choices everyone makes every day.
Shia makes a point
Funny enough, Shia Labeuf’s ridiculous ‘don’t let your dreams be dreams’ video he made, that many people laughed at for being so absurd, must resonate with people deep down somewhere. They know they are failing themselves everyday they don’t strive to reach their goals, to take a new step, or change their lives. And a failure from inaction is so much more insidious than one from direct work.
Edwin Henry is a writer living in Boise Idaho. When he's not rearranging words, he likes to play synthesizers and build blacksmithing forges.