On Failure

Success, in a vacuum, is the worst teacher. Real success is a result of trying something again and again and again, and then finally, making it work. Because success requires a feedback loop, it makes sense to then reflect on the opposite of success: failure. 

In school, we’re taught to avoid mistakes and mourn at failing. Instead, we should teach on how to fail fast, learn, try again, fail again (with iterations), and then succeed. That rapid form of testing will become a forcing function for people to experiment more, get out of their comfort zone, and as a result, achieve more. Afterall, failure is simply a learning method on the path to success.

In The Pixar Way, authors share several examples of failures that should resonate with all of us:

  • The fax machine was a failed invention in the 1840s.
  • The copy machine was rejected by GE and IBM in 1937, finally being produced in 1947.
  • Henry Ford went bankrupt 5 times.
  • Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime.
  • Orville Wright was expelled from elementary school.
  • Michael Jordan once failed to make his high school varsity basketball team.
  • Oprah Winfrey failed as a news reporter.
  • Winston Churchill finished last in his class.  
  • J.K. Rowling, the first billion dollar author, was a jobless, single mom on welfare when she wrote her first Harry Potter book.

There are countless other stories of people and products like this.

The one that really stood out from the list above was Vincent Van Gogh. He’s widely regarded as one of the most influential western artists. He was not commercially successful during his lifetime; he wrestled with mental illness, depression and poverty. He became famous decades after his passing. In 10 years, he produced 2,100+ art pieces. This includes 860+ oil paintings. Most of them were done in the last two years of his life. That means, he was producing 2+ pieces per day! 

So, next time you think about trying something and find yourself being afraid of failing, just remember that your failure is simply a feedback loop to help achieve the success you crave. It’s nothing more than that. 

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