How to Get Comfortable with Failure

July 25, 2016

Stagnating? Stalling? Standing still?  

If you’re anything like me, these words likely describe an all too familiar feeling. It’s a feeling related to fear. To being anxious about what comes next. 

Although I don’t like to admit it, I am, as most humans are programmed to be, incredibly risk averse. I seek out comfort where possible. I resist anything that could possibly lead to change. I like to maintain control where possible and do everything within my means to attempt to keep things ordered. 

All of these actions, all of these behaviours, they are directly attributable to one major theme. The fear of failure. The idea of coming up short and disappointing myself. Of risking particular things and losing them in the process.  

It’s really quite terrifying and always has been. But less so when I look around and see just how many other people are affected by the same fear. People of all ages and backgrounds. People incredibly experienced in life. Successful people also. Most of us are lead to make decisions based on the notion of failure.  

So why is it then that failure, or at least the prospect of failing, never gets easier? Why, even after experiencing it, coming through it and seeing how we survive, is the resistance so incredibly strong and unlikely to wane? 

This is a question I’ve been asking myself repeatedly. It arose again in my mind after experiencing failure in a recent application. Trying to gain a placement at Bath-based software company Mayden’s coding academy, I came up short in the last round of interviews. They went with two other candidates, who now will have the opportunity to delve into the world of software engineering on a three-month training course that they’ll be paid (not the other way around) to do. Lucky people. 

Although I was pretty happy to get to the final round, where I got to chat with the company founder and learn a lot about the industry itself, I still felt that pang of disappointment. The panic after seeing another door of opportunity close.  

“What was it I didn’t have or likely show?” I asked myself. “What was the root cause of my failure and the reason for them choosing others over me?” 

Admittedly it took a while to get over these questions. They weighed on my mind for quite some time afterward and I had to dig deep not to take things personally. Now, in hindsight, I feel pretty welcoming of those feelings. Almost pleased at having failed. 

The fact is this; I need to experience failure more in my life. Only then can I battle the fear. Only then can I practice not being pulled by negativity or letting it dictate my life. 

The best thing about doing that is that you fail, it hurts and then you learn from the pain. When you do that you grow and become a little more resilient. You get the chance to be better. Stronger. Less risk averse. More willing to throw your hat into the ring when the next thing rolls around.  

And so even though this opportunity has closed for me it now means I can pivot and put my energy and focus toward something else. What’s more? I can also take from it the chance to be more humble. To recognise that I’m nowhere near a ‘finished product’ and accept that, despite my ego telling me otherwise, I’m not the solution to what everybody is looking for. 

Getting comfortable with that notion is never going to be easy. It requires looking at the situation and ourselves differently, attempting to remove or soften our emotions and recognise our limitations as human beings.  

But we can get better and improve ourselves by experiencing failure more. By trying not to take things personally and recognising that other opportunities will arise when other doors close. 

That goes for jobs, for relationships, for habits and just about everything else. You’re never going to ace everything and have the perfect failure-free life. And that’s an extremely good thing.  

So this is a reminder to anyone reading this to actively try to fail more.  

And to not get too cut up about it when it happens. 

But rather see it as a gift. Another chance to try something different. A new opportunity to learn.