Aspiring to be a Better Failure
When was the last time you failed? I’m not asking about the last time you made a mistake, or the last time you forgot to do something for your boss. How long has it been since you took on a task that you were not really certain you could accomplish?
There is always a lot to be said about pursuing your dreams, working hard, and one day reaching success. Not everyone wants to bring up the times you’ll inevitably fail and feel like it’s game over. But just like Mario, it’s not really game over. That failure just brings you one step closer to success. So I write today with a different reminder:
Pursue failure, seek it out in all of your ambitions.
I have been doing a lot of learning this past year. I decided to teach myself to code, so I’ve been studying any web development articles, courses, and books that I can get my hands on. I have been fortunate enough to have some friends with similar interests, so I haven’t been alone on this journey, but there has been an important ingredient in my growth that I did not even realize I was neglecting. In my pursuit of knowledge I did whatever I could to find online resources to push my skills forward, but at the end of the day, there were never any stakes. I didn’t risk reputation, public embarrassment, or even minor consequences to my actions. If I came home from work and didn’t read anything or practice code exercises, then the only person who knew, or would at least hold me accountable, was myself.
I thought for awhile that I was pushing myself simply because I took the initiative to learn in the first place. As long as I felt like I was personally challenging myself, it was fine, right? Wrong. It wasn’t fine, because I wasn’t pursuing failure. Without realizing it, I limited myself to safe, manageable growth. I was learning and “challenging” myself, but only in the areas I felt interested in, and with no real impact if I just decided to skip for a night. The past few months, I found myself in a position where I could actually put my skills to use in my current job at Aceable, and that’s when I realized what was missing.
Coding at work started off straightforward and exhilarating, but soon after I began, something was clearly different. I was beginning to work in areas I was too intimidated by previously. There was a pressure looming over me that wasn’t present before. It could have been negative, but it wasn’t. After nearly a year of teaching myself, I was suddenly accountable for the lessons I’d been learning, and I found a renewal in both the speed and quality of my learning. It wasn’t that I was suddenly inspired about these previously foreboding topics, I had finally started failing.
After a few weeks of coasting through my new coding projects at work, the training wheels started to come off. In the beginning, I could tackle small tasks that didn’t scare me. However, once it was clear that those weren’t a problem for me, I was slowly given more, and more, and more until I hit a day where I stared at my screen for multiple hours, with nothing to show for it. This isn’t to say I hadn’t tried, but despite an onslaught of solutions that I had kicked off the day feeling confident about, I had nothing. The 1s and 0s had bested me, and I had no choice but to admit my failure and ask for help. Since then, things have only gotten tougher, but as I said before, my skills have only gotten stronger.
My message here is not that you should wantonly run headlong into destruction, but I encourage you to think more about your trajectory in how you challenge yourself. Are there stakes? Is there a legitimate risk of failure? Will you learn more if you increase your risk of failure? These are all questions that I’d encourage anyone trying to grow outside of their comfort zone to consider. I’m willing to assert that if you pursue even a little bit more failure in your life ambitions, then it will lead to a huge payoff in the long run. These days, I’ve become accustomed to having at least one day a week where I tackle a project without a single idea of where I’ll start, absolute zero. I wouldn’t have it any other way.