Wednesday, September 5, 2018

In Praise of Failure

And Why You Should Fail Hard and Often

I have a love affair with failure. When you pour your heart and soul into an endeavor only to watch your dream die on the vine… It’s a romantic, Byronic kind of tragedy that let’s you feel just how human you really are.

Failure is like a sad movie, an intense workout, a Thai massage, or spicy hot food. It’s one of those pains you can grow addicted to. Every entrepreneur is a bit of a masochist.

My first startup was GoMusicals.com, a gorgeous failure that took most of my twenties but just wouldn’t grow. That experience didn’t just teach me to accept failure, it taught me to cherish it.

You haven’t tested your limits until you have failed.

People who claim that they can accomplish anything they put their mind to are rarely accomplished people. If you put your mind to doing hard things, failure is inevitable. Einstein had failures. Lebron James has failures. The only people who never fail are people too afraid to push it to the limit.

Failure tells the truth.

We admire the teachers and the coaches who pushed us, who expected more from us, because they were the ones who shaped our character. Ultimately the distinction between tough love and cruelty is fairness. The good teacher is demanding, but eminently fair.

Failure is a good teacher, because it is fair. The universe makes sense.

Maybe you thought you had a sure thing, but there was some unseen risk you didn’t anticipate. Or maybe you thought the rules were X, but in reality they were Y. Or maybe you tried your best, but your best just wasn’t good enough. Some games are political, some are meritocratic, and some are games of chance.

Failure just teaches you what was already true.

Failure teaches about failure.

Everyone needs practice learning how to behave honorably when they fail. How to be gracious in defeat, a “good sport” and not a “sore loser”.

Everyone also needs to learn that it is ok to fail. That life goes on. That failure is nothing to be feared.

Some people can have a string of successes without tasting failure, and those people are the most vulnerable. We frequently see this in fighters who may seem unbeatable while they go undefeated, but the moment their streak is broken they fall apart. Fedor Emelianenko, Anderson Silva, Rhonda Rousey, Mike Tyson… I wonder if they might have been more resilient if they had known failure earlier in their careers.

The best failures are inscrutable.

My favorite failures are the ones that remain a complete mystery. In hindsight, we like to rationalize failures and victories, as if the outcome were inevitable.

But sometimes we just can’t make heads or tails of it. There is something magical and elusive about success, and failure is the natural state of things. We can improve our odds with hard work, talent, and careful planning, but in every venture there is still an element of luck.

Don’t think you can make sense of all your failures. Sometimes you just have to appreciate failure as a force of the universe.

Failure is beautiful.

There is a reason we turn again and again to agony in our art and in our imagination. Guilt makes us feel our goodness. Loss makes us feel our love. Failure makes us feel our valor.

When I think about our hardships as a startup, that is when I feel most invigorated. I know we are in good company.

Even as we learn and grow and improve, there is no avoiding our share of failures with Ethical Digital. So we make the choice to cherish every single one.

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