This blog is part of a series exploring the philosophical and human impact of change, growth and purpose. You can read the first blog here.
It’s in our genetic code to make mistakes – to fail, adapt and thrive. So much so that failure is often considered a predictor of success. According to Churchill, it is success: “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
As human beings, we fail multiple times throughout our lives, whether at projects, relationships, jobs, or something as simple as a New Year’s Resolution to get up earlier or drink less. While it might hurt at the time, there are significant benefits to failure, depending on what we choose to do with it.
As an avid trail runner, I know a thing or two about failure: about injuries, DNFs and missing out on first place in the last 500m of a race (yes, it still hurts). Sometimes it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed or completely put off by how big the opportunity for failure really is.
One morning last year I woke up at 5am to begin an hour-long journey to the start of a race and rang my sister in Australia to question what I was doing. I was nervous and felt unprepared. I wondered whether it would be easier just to give up rather than attempt the run and fail. What she said to me has become my mantra during those questionable 5am starts: “Only losers are afraid of losing”.
She was completely right, because losing is a big part of winning. If you never lose, you’ll never win either. Why? Because there’s so much value and growth in the learning that comes from losing.
Here are a few things that failure does for you:
1. Strips away ego to show you what’s important
2. Builds resilience in your ability to get back up (and recognise that falling over may not be as bad as you thought)
3. Gives first-hand experience that will help you overcome future obstacles
4. Builds character by shaping who you are and how you connect with others
5. Helps you grow and understand a broader sense of purpose, for yourself and the world around you
Considering these are all outputs of something supposedly awful, they all sound pretty good, don’t they?
If you want to amplify these benefits, you can go one step further and share your failures. Help change the world by preventing others from failing or suffering through similar mistakes.
In a time of fake news, social media misery and general global uncertainty, it’s important to share failure stories; to be authentic and vulnerable. No rose-tinted glasses, just a shared human experience. It might sound daunting, but it needn’t be.
Learn how to frame your failures
Each year, Hollywood makes billions of dollars sharing stories about characters overcoming failures and learning valuable lessons. Characters who strive, fail and then rise again. Redemptions. Quests. Why do we love them? Because they’re so heart-wrenchingly human. We ache when we watch them. We grieve with our favourite characters and feel empowered by their ability to change the world.
Imagine if your failure story was a Hollywood blockbuster, but without the special effects or eye-watering budget. All it needs is the story structure and sense of humanity. Around 100 years ago, Gustav Freytag captured a very simple story structure (Freytag’s Pyramid) that works just as well today as it did then.
Here are the key components of Freytag’s Pyramid and how they might relate to your failure story:
1. Exposition: provide a setting for your story with a main character (that’s you): what do you care about? What’s at stake? Ultimately, why should we care?
2. Inciting incident: The moment when you realised you needed to do something differently or reach a new goal. This could be either the moment of failure that sets you on a new path, or the moment you work on a new goal (which is ultimately going to fail).
3. Rising action: How did you overcome obstacles to reach your goal? Were there points at which you failed?
4. Climax: Either you succeeded, or you failed. Or you learned from your failures.
5. Falling action: The outcome of the climax – things start to fall apart or come together.
6. Denouement: How you changed as a person and what you learnt. How will this make the world a better place (a universal theme like love or resilience)?
So, next time someone asks how your day is going, share a failure with them. Something real and authentic. Something you learned from and that, perhaps, they can learn from too.
That’s how we can change the world.