Failing Forward – the Path to Success

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Growing up in America surrounded by media constantly depicting what success looks like, we are often greatly discouraged to fail. Once we reach school, this is strongly reinforced by the grading system – if you do poorly on an assignment (or fail) then your grade suffers from it. This negative feedback to failure only gets worse when you enter the work place. If you don’t do your job the way your boss tells you to do it, you may find yourself without a job very quickly. The horrible stipulation that society puts on this can make it seem like failure is the worst thing that could possibly happen to you, but it can actually be one of the best things that you can go through.

Failure gives us the chance to see that there is a better way to do something. It pushes us to achieve greater and bigger things. Sure, being successful is a great feeling but failure is not the end of the road. What would have happened if Thomas Edison quit after making his 10th attempt at making the lightbulb? We may still have gotten the light bulb eventually, but Edison would not have been the one it is credited towards.

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The more times that we allow ourselves to fail, we are setting ourselves up to succeed more often. There is always something to be learned from failure, kind of like tearing apart a car or a computer. Looking “under the hood” lets you see how everything works together to create a working engine or how data is transmitted in a computer. Likewise, if you fail to bake something, like a cake, each time it comes out wrong you will know what NOT to do in the future. Maybe you forgot to add any sugar or baked it for too long. Each outcome is probably not going to taste great, but you learn more about what it takes to bake a cake than if you got it right the first time.

There was a study done that suggests that the opposite of depression is not happiness; it is actually reslience. Resilience is our ability to bounce back and overcome obstacles and stress in our life without falling apart. This is something that we have to learn over time by failing. The more we fail, the more resilient we become. This is what enables us to move closer and closer to success. There are a few things we can do to help increase our resilience aside from failure. Sleep, diet, exercise, community, purpose, and gratitude are all factors that can improve our resilience.

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Photo by: Thomas Hajny

For me, failure is the main way that I learn how to do everything with Digital Media, especially with photography. I have taken thousands of pictures, yet there are only a few that I feel turned out perfectly. Yet, each time I go out on a photo shoot, I learn something different about my camera. I learn to see the world the way the camera does, and this helps me to get better and better at my photography. I also apply this to my design and, well, just about everything. I try not to develop one single style because it would put myself in a box and I would not be very adaptive. If I only made posters with a grunge theme, I would not do a good job at making wedding invitations or music recital posters. Likewise, if I only took pictures of flowers, I would not do very well with event photography.

The important thing is to keep pushing forward – there have been plenty of influential people in history that had to fail several times before they succeeded. Thomas Edison is one of the best known cases of this. He went through 1,000 failed attempts at making the lightbulb before he finally got it right. We need to let go of the stigma that failure is bad. It just means that you are getting better.

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