I have learned a lot of life lessons just seeing my daughter grow up. Like when she was just a year old and was trying to take her first steps and repeatedly fell down, she tried again…and again…and again.
Sometimes she laughed. Sometimes she cried. Sometimes she laughed and cried at the same time. But she kept trying and trying…laughing and crying.
She did not label her experience. She just enjoyed it.
Unlike us adults, our babies don’t know the possibility of a failure, so they happily keep falling down until one day they take a few steps, and then a few more. Before long, they’re jumping and running. All their trying pays off.
They fall but never fail.
As grown-ups, what if we also simply choose not to fail?
I think the biggest problem we all face in our lives is that we fear to start doing things just because we fear to fail…because we give too much power to the label of “failure.”
I associate well with this label, having been through a stage few years back when I was almost overpowered by it. And I almost gave in then, but survived – thanks to loads of good luck and my family’s support – to tell this tale.
What life has taught me since then is that stuff happens, and I don’t need to give each of my experiences a label.
Good, bad, hard, easy, success, failure etc. do not exist but as labels in our minds. All we need to do to hold our head high is to break through these labels.
Here is J.K. Rowling at Harvard in 2008, speaking about the benefits of failure, and how she dealt with them in her own journey from living the life of a young divorced mother near poverty to becoming the creator of a series of books that have sold more than 400 million copies, earned her over a billion dollars and created the opportunity for her to do what she’s here to do…
Rowling says (emphasis mine)…
…why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.
Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.
The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned…
If you have ever failed in life, and recovered, you will clearly understand what Rowling says in this lecture. And if you haven’t failed as yet (which seems impossible), you will be better prepared for the future.
You see, the only way to avoid “failing” is to stop giving failure a label. Because if you adopt, reinforce, and feed this label in your mind, you give it power over you.
You are, after all, not the labels you give yourself. Labels are limiting. You are not.