Is failure the secret to success?

May 29, 2016
Posted in Life lessons
May 29, 2016 Lizza Gebilagin

Why the key to achieving your dreams is to fail miserably. Seriously.

Photo: Νick Perrone

Any guesses as to what Katy Perry and Carey Mulligan have in common, besides their A-list status? Both have failed on the road to their now-successful careers. We’re not talking about little snags, like wardrobe malfunctions or missed movie roles, we’re talking epic fails that would have discouraged even the most passionate from pursuing their dreams. Take Ms Perry, whose first album back in 2001, Katy Hudson, flopped spectacularly. And The Great Gatsby star? Before Carey added a few Best Actress awards to her name and scored a role opposite Leo, she auditioned for – and was rejected by – three different drama schools.

Theirs aren’t the only stories of failure, but unless it’s to do with LOL- worthy iPhone autocorrects or self-deprecating #epicfail tweets, it’s a topic many of us don’t like discussing. Clinical psychologist Dr Lissa Johnson says it’s because we give failure a weighty psychological meaning and see it as a reflection of our ability or, worse still, who we are as a person. “The stakes then become so high that failure feels like disaster,” she explains. “Sometimes, to protect ourselves, we stop caring, or we decide we need to be perfect and then feel immobilised by high expectations.”

Fail more

Instead of letting these major setbacks stop them, Katy and Carey picked themselves up, kept going and are now at the top of their professions. How did they do it? These driven stars understood that failing doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and that’s something that the organisers of FailCon – a one- day conference about embracing failure – also want you to know. “Once you’ve identified your goal, you need to realise that there will be obstacles along the way. It’s the same for everyone,” says Josh Stinton, executive producer of FailCon Sydney. “It’s important to talk about failure and learn – what we call ‘flearn’ – from each other’s experiences, so that you don’t feel like the only one who is going through obstacles.”

Dr Johnson adds, “Failure is an essential part of learning. It provides an opportunity to evolve, develop and grow. Think about how coal turns into a diamond under pressure, and view failure as the pressure that crystallises your skills. If you learn from failures, one day you will look back on those experiences as badges of honour.”

The university of life

Seema is the proud recipient of many a metaphorical badge of honour. The 28-year-old is the founder of a not-for-profit media project called This Place Is Yours, which uses storytelling to help people talk about mental health. “I’m finally in my calling, but it took so long to get here,” she admits. “Three years ago, I started an online writing project to inspire people. I had big visions to grow it as a business. I was trying so hard for it to succeed, but my heart wasn’t in it, and the project wrapped up two years later. At the time, I felt like I couldn’t make a living doing what I loved, so I started an online fashion store. I thought it would be the answer but it wasn’t, and I had to shut it down.

“I have learnt that failure isn’t so black and white. My online store ended up being my real-life MBA; the online writing project gave me a little taste of being an editor. Both experiences lead me to where I am now. If something doesn’t work, I just think, ‘What can I try next?’. I always keep going. I truly believe that everything leads you to what you’re supposed to do.”

Your turn

Clinical psychologist Lissa Johnson helps you change the way you look at failure.

Expect failures, both large and small, on the path to an important goal.
Embrace all of the seemingly imperfect aspects of yourself. Our flaws and struggles give our lives heroism.

View each failure as a chance to learn and grow. Reflect on what you could’ve done differently, or what you know now that you didn’t know before.

Ask yourself what qualities you’d like to apply in responding to failure. It could be things like humour, tenacity, creativity or ingenuity.

Step back and find the lighter side of your failure. If there is something that you can laugh about, do.

Talk to supportive people for empathy and encouragement.

Trust that the future holds opportunities to apply your learning. Be open to new experiences, remain curious about what they might hold and be ready to embrace all the challenges they’ll bring.

This article was first published in the October 2012 issue of Cleo magazine Australia.



Lizza Gebilagin

Lizza Gebilagin is a journalist, editor and podcast producer. She has a taste for whisky and a love of boxing. Find out more or contact her.

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