The Folly of Failure

What if failure didn’t exist? No, I’m serious. What if it’s just a word someone invented because he was feeling down about his work and the word stuck.

It’s not hard to imagine a time when this word didn’t exist. There was a time when none of the words we use today existed. But at some point, we strung a few letters together to create words so we could express a feeling or share an experience. And from there, we used those words to cement the “rules” of our cultures. But just because a group of humans decided something was the rule, doesn’t mean that rule is an absolute.

So what if failure isn’t “real” then?  Not like air or water. Think about it, we have thousands of ways to define its opposite — success. We say to people, what does success look like to you?  Success is allowed to be fluid. You can’t pin it down. Not so with failure. Failure is universal. If you set out to achieve a specific goal and you didn’t, you failed. Plain and simple. Why the discrepancy? It makes no sense.

What if failure isn’t failure? What if failure isn’t even a setback? What if instead of saying to someone, “Well, that failed,” we said, “that almost worked.”

What if failure was a tool, not an outcome?  What if it enabled us simply to see what did or didn’t work so we could improve our effort?

What if it was a means to judge competence, and an F on a report card didn’t mean you were lazy or dumb or rebellious, it simply told the teacher that something wasn’t working for you.

Once we accept that failure is an opinion, not a fact, we no longer fear it. As humans we know better than to fear things that don’t exist.

Still, there’s that part of us that will always want to be afraid, even of things we know are not real. That’s why we seek out haunted houses, to test our bravery, to challenge ourselves, to feel the high that comes with overcoming fear.  But that’s a choice, see? We are choosing to scare ourselves. If you want to be afraid of failure, you can be, but that doesn’t make it real.

Here’s the thing about language, it’s living, it’s changing all the time. What if we took the word failure and made it a compliment? “Hey, dude, way to fail! Man, I would never have had the guts to try that.” Wouldn’t that just change everything?  Failure would no longer be a negative, it would be a positive.  We can do that, you know. We can change the word’s meaning. We could even move it out of existence if we chose to. We have that power.