“Failure is a bruise, Not a Tattoo” – John Sinclair
If I have learned anything about myself in my 37 years on the earth, it is this; I am really great at failing. I have found a million ways to do it and I will find a million more ways in the future. I am a natural at it. Most of the time, it is because I am going out and trying something I have never tried before. Sometimes, it is because I neglect the advice of those that came before me, and every so often, it is because I fail on purpose to see what will happen. Whatever reason I fail, I know that I am really good at it and that has made my life just that much better.
What makes me good at failing and why would that make me life better? Because I know that if I am failing, I am learning, and when I do manage to succeed at something, it is because previous failure has made it possible. All the failures in my life have led me to the moments where I succeed and without them I would never have been able to get there. I would not have the strength, the courage, the audacity and the endurance to keep moving forward despite the doubt, the fear, the discomfort and the naysayers. I would not have the expanse of lessons, stories, parables and experiences if I did not have my failures. Sure, they are uncomfortable things, but they are temporary, and nothing is so good a learning or teaching moment as a failure.
The problem most of us have with failure is that we don’t see it that way. We latch onto failure and we forget that the wounds of it are fleeting and fading. Like a bruise, we often see a failure and press on it over and over, reliving the pain of that experience and making it harder to heal and thereby thinking it is an eternal tenderness on our lives. We see our failures as permanent marks that will always follow us because we keep poking it and never allowing it to heal but that is not the case. The black and blue dims and before long you forget it was ever there. You forget there was a tender spot there that hurt to touch. You forget that it was some ugly mark that you wanted to hide away from the world because they might ask too many painful questions about how you got it. You forget in a way that allows you to ignore the tenderness of that failure and approach it again in a better way and, before long, you are just not failing anymore and you forget you ever were.
But in order for failure to be a useful for growth and success you need to view it as such. Failure is a powerful development and learning tool, when looked at properly, and here is why:
Failure gives us a means of re-calibrating our strategies.
Failure is simply a means of correcting the trajectory of our ideas, our activities and our lives. If we know what direction we want our lives to head in, failure is a way of constantly correcting ourselves so that we do not stray far from that path. Think of an interceptor missile, zig zagging through the sky as it approaches its target. It’s doesn’t fly perfectly straight. It is constantly recalibrating itself to the movements of its target and to the terrain it is flying through. Failure is our calibration method. We evaluate where we are and we remember where we want to be and if those two places are not in alignment we adjust. It is your way of judging how far you have overcorrected or undercorrected in order to reach your target. No one flies straight through life to a target without some adjusting on the fly. The successful people in this world know how to recalibrate quickly, not let the failure set their permanent course and consequently hit the target.
Failure makes us stronger.
Failure puts callouses on your soul. It enables you to do the heavy lifting in life without fear of constantly ripping open a blister. The more often you fail the harder it is going to be for that failure to do any real damage to you, and the more likely it is that you are going to be able to absorb that failure and become stronger for it. It’s like lifting weights. When you lift, you tear muscle fibers so that they can rebuild themselves stronger so that, next time you lift, you can lift more. That is what failure can do for us. It can tear us up to make us stronger, but only if we get right back in the weight room of life and keep lifting the heavy shit. Because, just like in a weight room, If you don’t keep at it, you may lose the strength you gain from those failures and have to start over again.
Failure gives us wisdom.
Failures are an opportunity for reflection and with reflection often comes wisdom. Failure is our chance to take a step back and consider the cause and effect that created it. We can identify our part in our failures and identify the external things that were out of our hands. We can use failure to investigate, contemplate and eliminate the weak points in our life, and bring about the lessons to be learned and the wisdom to be passed along in order to improve. Failure is something we should loosely catalog away for future reference, because we never known when we might need to call upon those lessons again. A failure in one aspect of life can easily cause a failure in another and the learning that comes from any failure can improve the likelihood of future success in all. You fail in a relationship because of jealousy? This failure is deeper and wider than any one relationship. I guarantee it affects other aspects of your life and it is holding you back from success in the places, in some really fundamental ways. Really consider the depth and reach of your failures and use the wisdom gained from this contemplation as a source of future action.
Failure shows us other opportunities
Failure opens the doors to other opportunities and options that we had no idea we could pursue. If we keep our perspective on failure, and see it only as another stop on the way to our success, we can use it to find new ways to succeed and to find new things we want to succeed at. Failure is opportunity, in and of itself. Once you fail you have every opportunity to do anything at that moment. You can try again the same way, you can approach it differently, you can learn from it, you can hide it, you can hate it, you can beat yourself up over it, you can blame someone else, etc. There are so many opportunities that exist after failure, some that will ensure you never succeed and some that ensure you always will, and it is up to you to find the opportunities in that failure and use them to get it right.
You are going to fail in life, and if you are not failing in life you are not trying enough of the difficult shit that matters. You are going to attempt something that is just too far out of your reach. You are going to make mistakes. You are going to do some shit that you regret and, if you let it, it is going to leave a permanent mark on every aspect of your life, but that doesn’t have to be what you get from the bruises of failure. You can let them heal and you can learn from them, like a child learning to walk and falling down constantly; you pick yourself back up and you try that shit again. Because that’s how you learn and that’s how you get better; through failing and learning.
In fact, my challenge to you is to fail on purpose sometimes. I am not saying go out and do something that you have already succeeded at and half-ass it so you fail. I am saying, go do something you know you will fail at and use that failure in the ways I describe above. Watch what happens. You will see that a bunch of little bruises are not enough to stop you from eventually succeeding. In fact, all those bruises are temporary badges of missions accomplished and meaningful changes approached, lessons learned and wisdoms gained. And what it all adds up to in the end is someone who is unstoppable in the face of failure, someone always moving forward despite the setbacks. Someone who wears the tattoos of success over the bruises of failure.