We may hesitate to do something or try new things because we don’t want to fail, but what if not taking action could lead to an even bigger failure?
If we tried something and didn’t attain the desired outcome, we define the event as a failure. We tried. It didn’t work, or was a catastrophic disaster; therefore, we failed.
Failure, it seems, is a result of taking action.
“Just do it!” they say. Well, maybe you just did it and hated it, or perhaps the outcome was worse than you expected or could have prepared for.
This is why we can easily smooth talk ourselves out of taking action. Trying to avoid failure is a comforting excuse to not take that risk or try that new thing and remain safely in our comfort zone.
Taking action is scary because it’s an opportunity for us to fail; it makes us vulnerable. We say, “If I do this thing, I could fail miserably” or “The result may not be what I intended.” The action may indeed lead to failure; so we procrastinate, make excuses, or put the thought out of our minds. We nestle snuggly back into the welcoming warmth of our comfort zone. Safe and sound from the big bully, failure.
But it’s time to redefine failure. Over the past several months I’ve been examining this word — failure — to determine what it truly means, and how it occurs. As a result of this personal inspection, I pose to you that inaction can be a failure. You can fail because you didn’t act or try.
Not taking risks, getting out of our comfort zones, seeing what we’re capable of doing, trying the things that keep us awake at night, exploring the what-ifs that excite us, and otherwise not becoming the best versions of ourselves is failing.
Sure, by taking action you may fail by traditional standards, but inaction can be failing too. I think its consequences could be larger than trying and failing.
Not living up to your true potential and allowing your talents, passions, and abilities to explode forth can be considered failing. In this light, taking that chance isn’t nearly so intimidating, is it?
Let’s redefine how we view failure.
Changing How We View Failure
How can you not allow fear of the what-ifs prevent you from taking action? Perhaps more importantly, when you do take action and things don’t go as planned, how can you view failure as a positive experience?
First, you must acknowledge that you have a choice in how you view failure. This is best explained by Dr. Carol Dweck in her book Mindset (highly recommended book and you can get a cheap copy right here; that’s an affiliate link). In the book she reveals that we have a choice between two mindsets: a fixed- and growth-mindset, and they can apply to any area of life, including how we view failure.
As a brief overview, those who have a fixed-mindset believe intelligence and other traits they possess were what they were born with; it can’t be changed. Either you have “it” (whatever “it” is), or you don’t. Those with a growth-mindset believe how we are born is just a starting point; that we can increase our intelligence, learn new skills, and change our traits. As Dweck says in her book, “Becoming is better than being.” This means that you can improve your skills and do the things you want to do; you don’t have to give in to the false notion that you must be born that way.
It all comes down to a choice; you can choose which mindset you want to adopt, and this can be applied to how we view failures. Those with a growth-mindset view failures as opportunities to improve their skills. And, perhaps, most importantly, those with a growth-mindset believe that:
Failure is an experience, not an identity.
It’s an opportunity to strengthen your grit. To learn. To grow. To gain knowledge you can’t attain from reading a stack of books on a given subject. To become a better, more experienced, version of yourself than would otherwise be possible. Failure is one of our greatest teachers, and we’d be wise to heed its lessons.
The next time you’re paralyzed by fear and tempted to snuggle back into your comfort zone where scary things don’t happen, look at the situation differently. Could you fail worse by not taking the chance, doing the thing, or [fill in the blank!]? Could not taking action lead to far greater consequences than if you tried and failed?
As a personal example, I’ve published dozens of articles on this website that scare the crap out of me to put in front of your eyes. Why? Because some people may get offended, or hate the content, or think I’m an idiot. I’ve received hate-mail for my experiences and views, but I’ve reasoned it out that not sharing certain things is a bigger failure than posting these articles and facing potential criticism. As a result of the articles published here I’ve had the privilege of connecting with others who have had similar experiences, and I’ve helped many.
In this instance, not posting articles — not taking action — because I’m afraid of failing (e.g., receiving negative feedback or not sharing something extremely helpful) would be a bigger failure, because I wouldn’t be helping others. I’ll continue to take action and not allow unconstructive criticism to affect me.
From my perspective, as shown above with that one small example, failure can happen because you don’t act.
What if you take action and do end up failing anyway? First, have some compassion on yourself. Second, harness the growth-mindset and use that experience to make you better, smarter, and more resilient. (You can do this if you want to.) Remember it’s a learning experience; it doesn’t define you.
In the end, we all have a choice. When it comes to failure, don’t fear it. Not doing the things you want to do can be a bigger failure. Should you encounter failure, learn from it. While it may be a suck-fest at the time, you can choose to use that experience to grow.
To quote Dr. Dweck one last time, “You can look back on your life and say, ‘I could have been …,’ or you can look back and say, ‘I gave my all for the things I valued.’”
If you enjoyed this article you may also like Shut Up and Do Something and The Guide on How to Stop Caring What Other People Think.
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