Believe it or not I was fortunate to have strong influences in my life reinforce the idea of failing forward. Growing up I was taught not to fear failure and to learn to succeed even in trying times. But I still feared it. This fear stopped me from getting a job until I was in college. It stopped me from ever asking out any of the girls I liked. I for some reason developed a deep seated fear of failure. It isn’t really hard to figure out why. The culture we live in is so success driven that in education failing isn’t exactly encouraged. I also had parents who, while they were wonderfully encouraging to me, didn’t accept any grades below a B in school.
Kids today aren’t taught to fail. They’re taught to succeed. Our school systems reward success but punishfailure. Our sports recognize and support champions but never show the work and countless failures it took to get there. Even in our churches you can become socially less accepted if you haven’t established a solid successful career or if you picked a more risky major . It’s kinda this attitude that risks aren’t worth taking because it could lead to failure which will ruin your life. This is seriously what we in american culture seem to believe. On top of these things kids are coddled more than ever. Everyone is given a participation medal. Actual achievement medals are being phased out of education and youth sports because it could hurt a child’s self esteem. I’ve even heard of a youth football team that was fined $500 because they broke the mercy rule. With kids being taught with such ferocity to avoid failure and losing how in the world are the supposed to handle the first time they aren’t hired or their first time being laid off or fired from a job.
This fear of failure culture is damaging to the structure of our society because in the real world failure is inevitable. Fear of failure cripples job hunters and stops potential entrepreneurs. According to Bernie Schroeder the reason why most people will never start a company is because they are either “looking for something perfect or afraid of failure.” Imagine what this does to an economy completely driven by capitalism and entrepreneurship. When people don’t create start ups we will see decline in quality in the market place and the formation of monopolies on industry. Which puts us as citizens under the control of these businesses. All because us as people don’t exercise our potential. Each of us has the ability to become great but only after we step out of the comfort zone and take risks and embrace the potential for failure.
So how do we fail forward? Quite honestly I think the only way one can fail backward is to give up. Anytime you fail you discover a new way not to do whatever you’re trying to learn. Consider Thomas Edison’s famous quote “I didn’t fail, I found 2000 ways not to make a lightbulb; I only needed to find one way to make it work.” This is the true nature of failure, not the opposite of success but a stepping stone on the road to success. Our schools need to start embracing failure as a tool for learning and ignore the political correctness bull crap that forces every kid to be rewarded all the time. Kids need to be conditioned to recognize and respond positively to feelings of failure and defeat so they can get back on the horse and keep moving towards success.
As a follower of Christ I find Phillipians 4:11 to be of great use in dealing with the fear of failure. “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” If we could learn to be content in all circumstances the fact of failure would not be troublesome to us.