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I Fail To See What Is Wrong With Failing

(this was written in my first year facing the new world of University as an 18 year old)

When parents, older friends and teachers ranted off about how university is an entirely new experience and everything is different I believed them. One thing I wasn’t planning to experience though was failure but adjusting is not as easy as I thought it would be. This is a new year where we face hurdles daily and expect ourselves to reach over and above everything and everyone else first time round.


When we fail it hits us hard and we feel bad about it – sometimes driving us to question whether we are studying the wrong degree and cause us to lose faith in ourselves but perhaps our perception is slightly hazy.


We are endlessly pushed towards success and towards setting higher and higher goals. It has even become a part of our education system. In Life Orientation we learn study methods and goal setting. There is not much talk of failing in our day to day lives. It is not spoken of.

But what exactly is wrong with failing?


To quote a wise man called Stephen Pile, author of “The Ultimate Book of Heroic Failures” (the “book”):

“Success is overrated. All successful people are the same. You know, drive, will to win, determination … it is just too dull to contemplate, whereas everyone who messes up big time does so in a completely individual way. Doing something badly requires skill, panache, genius, exquisite timing and real style.”


We all fail but does it make you a failure? Apparently not! The art of failing is a seriously underappreciated art and takes numerous consecutive failures before reaching the level of considering yourself a professional failure.


So if life since your New Year’s resolutions has had you panicked and up in arms with your horrible failures then try reading about other people and be amazed at the sheer talent some people have at failing.


For example don’t feel bad about not passing your driver’s test first time round or even after a few tries because over in South Korea it took a Mrs Cha Sa-soon 960 times to pass hers! Currently holding the world record (understandably) it seems her strategy was to memorise as many questions and answers as possible without understanding anything. She began her endeavour in 2005 and by November of 2009 made it to the road-skills section which she failed four times as well.


So if you fail your test don’t feel too bad about it you might even win a car like Mrs Cha! Hyundai gave her a car in honour of her long awaited achievement and she stars in their prime-time advertising campaign showed nation-wide in South Korea. (page 18 of the book)


Further if while writing an essay or assignment for marks you didn’t research quite as well as you should have don’t worry at the very least you didn’t name a restaurant Hitler’s Cross. A Mumbai business man called Punit Shablok who admits he doesn’t know Western history couldn’t understand people’s reaction when he opened his restaurant filled with Nazi propaganda posters and Nazi symbols on his menus and swastika flags hanging along the walls in Mumbai. Even the German consul-general personally suggested to the owner that a less controversial title would be better. To think all he wanted to do was stand out. Mission accomplished. (page 65)


In other failed moments of glory in 1999 a woman was arrested in LA for walking around completely naked with a bucket on her head. She had locked herself out of her balcony and was using the bucket to hide her identity! So don’t feel too bad if your last social outfit was lacking a bit of dazzle at least you were clothed. (page 42)


My personal favourite falls in with do not blame yourself for cracking a joke in the company of new friends and it going south. Over in Denmark in the 1994 general elections Jacob Haugaard stood for parliament as a practical joke. In his manifesto justifying why he should be elected, he promised free beer, Nutella for soldiers in all army field regions and the reclassification of people without a sense of humour as being “disabled”. He even wrote a book supporting his candidacy entitled If Work is Healthy Give It to the Sick.


Sounds hilarious right? How could such a funny joke backfire? Well what Mr Haugaard did not plan for was winning the election and he was voted into parliament! One of the policies in his manifesto even became law. Every army field region in Denmark now serves Nutella. The new MP for Aarhus was quoted saying: ‘It was all a practical joke, honestly. I guess people elected me because my promises are just as trustworthy as those of conventional political parties.’ (page 80)


So what is wrong with failing at something once or twice? You always learn more from a failed attempt than from success.


In a recent article in The Sydney Morning Herald, the reporter Sarah Berry covered ‘Perfect Failures’ which explains that failing is merely a building step to get you to success. The article’s focal point is the founder of Spanx, Sara Blakely. She is the youngest self-made billionaire in history and has grown up with failure by her side.


She told Entrepreneur magazine, “My dad encouraged us to fail. Growing up, he would ask us what we failed at that week. If we didn’t have something, he would be disappointed. It changed my mindset at an early age that failure is not the outcome, failure is not trying. Don't be afraid to fail.''


And fail is what she did. She never let rejection and people’s negative reactions stop her from realising her idea of a footless undergarment aimed at giving women a “blemish-free look” around bellies, hips and bottoms.


As long as you do not make failing a habit you won’t find yourself in The Ultimate Book of Heroic Failures like the brave warriors I’ve shared with you. If you hit a hurdle in your path this year – do not overthink it. Allow yourself to laugh and move on because what you gain from every failure is experience and resilience and with those skills by your side you are by no means a failure.


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