Comfortability with failure

Failure feels pretty bad. Failure. Even the word sounds pretty dismal, conjuring up images of (at least in my head) a depressed looking chap, tie slung loose, swigging out of a brown-bagged bottle on the curb, in the rain.

Failure is something we spend all day trying to avoid. It’s a natural inclination to do this as we feel that failure is going to be a blow to both our esteem, and to a lesser extent, our identity. There are also other risk factors involved in every potential failure that need to be taken into account as well.

When I sit down to program a game or write an article, there’s always that fear that what I create will not live up to some standard that others or I have constructed in my head. It’s generally what leads to procrastination as by not doing anything, there’s no way to confirm that you are in fact terrible at this thing. There’s no potential threat to your identity. This is the fear of failure.

While that all sounds pretty miserable, I believe that by working on reframing how we understand failure, this weakness that most of us have can in fact be turned into (quite possibly) our greatest strength. Speak to pretty much any successful entrepreneur and you’ll find that they are comfortable with failure. That to them it is a motivator and an opportunity to learn. You’ll also find that each of them failed. They failed a lot.

Elon Musk, the only person on the planet who has single-handedly crafted three companies, each worth over a billion dollars, has a very impressive string of failed attempts behind his name. His first successful company (PayPal) was most certainly not his first, or even second attempt at breaking into the internet market, and this one iteration was all it took to launch him into the history books.

If nothing else, we are committed to failing in a new way. – Elon Musk

Failure can be one of the biggest motivators when used correctly. In the game design industry, no game idea is ever formed fully baked. They are all pretty terrible to begin with and we accept and actually encourage failure as much as possible during development as it creates a better experience in the end. The game designer’s credo according to the YouTube channel Extra Creditz is “Fail faster”. The sooner you fail, the sooner you can learn from that failure, dust yourself off and keep running. You’re not starting over or resetting, you’re attempting again from a better vantage point where you have more experience and information on your hands than you could have dreamed of previously.

Failure is not a resetting of process, it is a learning opportunity that is often overlooked due to the feelings of inadequacy it generates.

Thomas Edison said it best (even though I do have some historical resentment for the man).

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 way that won’t work.

I believe that this characteristic is as important (if not more important) in personal development than it is in business and creativity. How often is it that you don’t speak to that cute guy/girl at the party because of your fear of rejection? The construction in your head of that failure is probably a hell of a lot worse than reality, and in reality, you have no idea until you try.

Not only does failure teach so much, it also has the effect of putting you out of your comfort zone, making you (over time) more confident in the face of adversity and risk. It is also very important in cultivating a strong sense of agency in a person and can arguably play a large part in character building and upstandingness (yes, that is a word). I touch on what “agency” is and its benefits in my article on why games are changing the world.

Many people spend way too much time worrying about how to interact or approach certain situations, and while I’m certainly not advocating on jumping out of the boat in order to learn how to swim, I do believe that the only firm way to test any assumption is to try it out. You may end up pushing yourself to your limits, and it most certainly will be uncomfortable the first few times, but what is important is building up your resilience and learning from the experience.

What if you fail you ask? You will. Then, you move on.

In order to become comfortable with failure, you need to fail. I know that sounds very chicken and eggy, but it’s unfortunately the truth. Run towards the unknown, push yourself out of your comfort zone, don’t become complacent, embrace failure. Embrace that shit and not only will you be more successful in your personal endeavours, but more importantly, you’ll have learnt the subtle art of not giving a fuck.


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