Take a minute to watch the above video. I think it captures something profound and inspiring.
For some reason in our culture failure is seen as this taboo that must be avoided at all costs, yet some of the the best in the world have failed many times over. There’s a classic Thomas Edison quote about inventing the light bulb:
I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps
So it’s not really about failing, it’s more about when you give up. Maybe success is just around the corner?
One of Seth Godin’s books is dedicated to this concept. He calls it The Dip, and it’s all about pushing through failure. As we all know, new projects are fun in the beginning, but the rewards lie for those that can push through the long hard slog at the end. Godin explains:
It’s human nature to quit when it hurts. But it’s that reflex that creates scarcity. The challenge is simple: Quitting when you hit the Dip is a bad idea. If the journey you started was worth doing, then quitting when you hit the Dip just wastes the time you’ve already invested. Quit in the Dip often enough and you’ll find yourself becoming a serial quitter, starting many things but accomplishing little. Simple: If you can’t make it through the Dip, don’t start.
-The Dip, Seth Godin
Suck Less Everyday
I think the key is to suck less everyday. Start out knowing that you will suck and strive for 1% daily improvement. Pretty soon you’ll be amazingly good.
I remember when I first started running seriously — I really sucked. After running a couple of miles, I was winded. But I told myself that I would stick to a plan and run an increasing number of miles every week. Somehow, by the end of four months of solid training, I ran a marathon with a pretty good time.
The Fringe Benefits of Failure
One of my all-time favorite speeches is by JK Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series). She gave it at a Harvard Commencement and her subject was the “Fringe Benefits of Failure”. She talked about how she royally failed in the early part of her life:
So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.
She was a huge failure, but she goes on to describe what she learned from that failure. It stripped away the inessential and let her focus on the only that ever mattered to her – writing. She says, that if she had been an astounding success at something else, she may never have sat down to write the novels we all know and love today.
In fact, I hear this all the time. Whenever I’m talking to people about taking time out to build a great software product they always talk about the fact that they’re making good money doing this or that and they don’t want to risk taking time out. They settle for the good rather than the great. By failing dramatically, Rowling didn’t have that option.
Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.