I frequently fail.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that for every one success I’ve had, I’ve had 3 or 4 failures. Failing is a part of doing and a part of learning, yet many folks are discouraged by failing. They are so afraid of failure that they don’t try new things and they set all their goals and standards low, or worse yet, don’t set any standards at all. Failure is a guarantee for pretty much every person on the planet who survives infancy. Children fail to execute tasks properly, teenagers fail to meet expectations from friends, family, peers, and themselves. Even the least ambitious adult is going to fail from time to time.
As we fail more and more often we get discouraged and stop actually DOING things. It hurts our egos to fail and to protect the fragile nature of that, we start aiming lower and doing less. Life begins to stagnate and you slowly fade into the background.
The man who becomes great becomes so because he does not let his failures prevent him from pursuing his ambitions. When he is knocked down he gets back up, dusts himself off, and tries again.
Lets look at an example that applies to many, many, many Pagans I have met. They decide that they are going to start doing devotionals every day. They do them consistently for a while and then all of a sudden they forget to do them for a few days and suddenly decide that they just aren’t cut out for it and give up on the whole thing. It isn’t that they aren’t cut out for it, it is that at some level they are embarrassed about forgetting or disappointed in themselves for forgetting. Sometimes they simply feel “unworthy” because they forgot.
The process of forgetting does not mean that you need to wail and hate yourself and just assume you “aren’t cut out for it.” No, you start again, and you go until you forget again and then you start again. You just start where you left off and try a bit harder next time. You’ll find that these multiple tiny failures will lead to a big success, a deeper relationship with the gods and ancestors. Then all that disappointment you felt in yourself will be well worth it.
In a more general sense though, here are some things that I think it would be helpful to keep in mind regarding failure.
Being able to fail means you have standards
That’s right, being able to fail in of itself means that you have standards that you abide by. In some settings they are strictly quantitative, such as failing to attain a certain grade in a class or failing to run a certain number of miles per week. Some measures are qualitative, you can’t quite put a finger on how much is or isn’t enough, but you know that you didn’t give it your best and thus feel you have failed yourself and others. Either way, it means that you have some standards that you are holding yourself to.
Failure is a learning experience
You know that old saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?”, well, there is a lot of truth to it. Failing is usually the result of a variety of mistakes or miscalculations (and sometimes just bad luck!) that result in the goal or standard not being met. Keeping that in consideration, it means that those mistakes and miscalculations can be accounted for and a person can usually improve their technique and skills to do better on the next go around. So yes, unless your failure somehow kills you, you are afforded a chance to improve your skills.
(I would like to note however that sometimes failure does not come as a result of merely internal and external factors. Sometimes failure can be the result of wholly external forces working against a person or group of people. While this is an unpleasant occurrence that I mostly get to avoid, I do realize that sometimes we fail soley because people are working against us, usually on account of our gender, race, sexual orientation, or religion. Keeping that in mind it is important to realize that you did not personally fail, but rather the other person(s) or group(s) have failed to maintain a basic sense of reciprocity and decency.)
Failure keeps things in perspective
When we fail we are forced to acknowledge the most essential fact: we are humans. Failing helps us keep our essential humanity in the forefront of our thoughts, it keeps us remembering that yes, we are human. We all know of people (both personally and celebrities) who had too much success too quickly and got hugely over-inflated egos. These people become arrogant, snobish, rude, and generally unpleasant to be around due to their massive successes and relative lack of failures. They have begun to perceive themselves as being somehow invincible. We implicitly acknowledge that failure keeps us equal when we say things like “I wish she’d be knocked down a peg” or “he needs to go down in the dirt for a while.” Failure prevents us from becoming far too full of ourselves.
Don’t fear failure, don’t fear success. Learn from your failures, grow from them, and don’t allow your failures to prevent you from pursuing greatness.
The man who tries and fails still may go down in the history books, the man who never tries fades away after his death. Plus, really spectacular failures go great in memoirs!