The fear of failure is not human. We were not born with the fear of failure as a physiological defense. Rather, it’s taught in our formative years through school and societal expectations. Schools focus on academic achievement and have to build the fear of failure for those who do not conform. How many of us have ‘failed’ in an academic subject and how much has that affected us in achieving our goals?

In a previous blog, I wrote about curiosity and its connection to innovation. I highlighted innovators who thrived in their uniqueness and used that to their advantage. Do we believe that innovators like Steve Jobs never failed? The difference is that they didn’t nurture the shame that came with the failure. 

While writing this blog, I thought about the message that I want my reader to take away. Is it ‘how to learn from failures?’ or ‘examples of failing and climbing up’? All these seemed very distanced from the actual experience of failure. So I want to share habits that we can build to develop the muscle for failure.

1. Pick up a sport: I picked up chess as a hobby as I was building a chess course with DIY. I needed to understand the basics and take a few steps back to learn how to teach the basics. Chess is a logical sport and takes immense focus and practice, and still you fail more often than not. What’s fun about failing in chess? It’s the analysis and strategy change for the next game. Why can’t we take the same approach and change strategies after failures?

Sportspeople are intrinsically motivated through years of failing and practicing. In a Nike TV commercial broadcasted in 1997, Michael Jordan said ‘ I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.’ This line was written by a Nike copywriter but embodies Jordan’s state of mind and attitude towards failing. 

Pick up a sport and get better one day at a time. This will build comfort with failure

2. Become a ‘builder’: In 2018, Jeff Bezos sent a letter to his shareholders. In this letter, he spoke about Builder’s Mentality. A builder focuses on solving big problems with humble conviction through iteration. He also speaks about scaling failure to be able to scale success. A builder mindset craves opportunities and believes that failures are iterations and not termination

To build a builder mindset, invest time in what you love, do it consistently and navigate failures as if they are crossing paths. The goal is to iterate.  

3. Play games: I have been a fan of board games and a board game builder. I also truly love video games and the experience it creates. Larry J. Crockett, a professor at University of Minnesota in his study, suggested that failure in virtual environments creates incentives to keep learning. Gaming, physical or virtual, develops qualities of resilience and facing failures as opportunities for experimentation. Games teach us to fail in low stake environments, analyze and move forward. My fellow gamers would agree! 

If you pick one of these habits, how is it going to make us better at learning?

  • Who is an unlearner? Someone who thrives in change and is okay with questioning norms. An unlearner looks at failure as a chance to make things better and not terminate. 
  • Academic world teaches us that failure means taking a step back. In reality, if you fail at learning, you have to find a better way to learn and not stop learning. 

Be okay with failure. 

Unlearning Thought!

Learning is like walking through a maze. Every turn is not a failure, it’s a step close to the outcome.