The Bright Side of Failure

“It’s just like riding a bicycle—you never forget!”

People say that phrase when describing a task that’s easy to pick up again even if it’s been a while since you’ve done it. Think tying your shoes or long division.

But when someone says it to me, I just stare blankly. For although I’ve mastered lace-up footwear and elementary school math, there’s one childhood rite of passage that has eluded me.

I never learned how to ride a bike.

I never owned a bike as a kid, not even one with training wheels. I was driven wherever I needed to be and spent my free time loafing on the couch with a bag of Nutter Butters.

Not surprisingly, I was about 40 pounds overweight too. Yeah, middle school was tons of fun.

A few years ago as my 30th birthday approached, I was overcome by the need to check things off my bucket list. How’d I ever make it to adulthood without riding a bike?

After a quick trip to the local bike shop and $500 later, I was in possession of my first bike. Chris and I went to an empty parking lot so I could teach myself how to ride it.

Hours later, I was tired, upset, and beyond frustrated. I still don’t know what went wrong, but I managed to flip myself over the front of my bike and land hard on top of the handlebars. My chest and side were scraped up for weeks.

It was hopeless. I failed. I really sucked.

Think about a time in your life when you failed at something you really wanted to do.

Maybe you failed a class (been there). Maybe you never got a second interview (done that).

Maybe you released products for your business that nobody bought (yep).

We all experience failure. We all suck sometimes. But here’s the wacky part—it’s actually WONDERFUL that you’ve failed!

Don’t think so? Here’s why you’ll be happier the more you embrace the bright side of failure.

Comparison is a Dream Killer

Almost everyone I know has the tendency to get caught up in other people’s accomplishments. It seems like there’s always someone out there with a better job, more money, tighter abs, a faster car, less fussy kids, and on and on.

Ugh! Just thinking about how good everyone else’s lives are makes me want to crawl into bed and scream into my pillow.

Comparing yourself to others is the quickest way for you to give up on your dreams. If you feel like you’ll never measure up, then why bother?

Failing to measure up to other people’s successes doesn’t mean you’re not good enough.

We’re all so very different. We have different talents and abilities.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Albert Einstein

I failed at riding a bike, and I was comparing myself to my peers (and even little kids!) who had already learned how to do it. But when I think about it, there are millions of people in the world who don’t know how to ride bikes!

And I know I’m gifted in other ways.

Accept Your Failure

The idea of accepting failure is really off-putting to a lot of my clients. As coach, I’m supposed to motivate you to keep going, push forward, think positively, rah rah rah!

Failure is not the same as defeat.

Failure simply means that it didn’t work out the way you wanted. Failure means you still have more tries to get it right or get something brand new. Defeat is when you stop trying altogether.

You’re going to fail in your life. And if you’re lucky, you’ll fail a lot! Each failure tells you that something wasn’t quite right, and that’s your opportunity to reflect on the situation.

Do you still want that goal? Is there a different approach you can take?

Accept the failure, stand up, dust yourself off, and decide where to go from there.

The Benefits of Failure

There are 2 big benefits of failing. The first is that you can eliminate the things you don’t want. You might realize the thing you were striving for was someone else’s dream, not yours. Or maybe you don’t want it anymore now that you know what’s really involved.

As a teenager, I dreamed of studying art in college. I loved drawing, and I bought anatomy books so I could draw people better (OK, so I could draw Batman better).

However, my work never won any contests, and compared to my peers, my art kinda sucked. But by failing as an artist, I found another passion—my love for the human form. I worked for the art department in college as a figure model, and I got to study anatomy for my PE degree.

The second benefit is that you become more determined to get the things you do want and you’re stronger for it. And in my mind, no one sums up this idea better than Randy Pausch.

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

When you fail before you get your desired result, your achievement is so much sweeter.

It might take time for you to stop comparing yourself to others and to embrace failure, but it’ll become second nature with practice.

It’s just like riding a bicycle.

This post focuses on Step 1 of the Life Editing Process, Create a Foundation. For more about life editing and what it can do for you, click here.

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