I think one of the most important lessons I have learned, so far, is that failing is key to true personal progress. Unpleasant as far as life lessons go? Oh yeah. But.
The old saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, although true, is not completely accurate. If something hard or traumatic doesn’t kill you, what you are left with is not strength but a crossroads. You can choose to learn and grow physically, emotionally and spiritually. Or you can choose to extend the pain, which then invites more pain.
An example I love to use in my conversations on this topic is an experience that my wife shared with me early in our marriage.
She used to work as a receptionist for a psychologist. As part of her duties, she would be required to file patients’ information, as well as interact with the clients in between appointments. She was not required to read the dark, juicy details of people’s lives in doctors’ notes, or to sit in on sessions, or to ask them personal questions about the inner workings of their lives – however, their time in the office was a time of heightened emotion and vulnerability, and she often ended up being an ear for or a witness to their anxieties, either before or after appointments. This meant that, without really trying to, she became fairly intimate with regular clients’ struggles, as well as their current state of mind. The interesting part – and the lesson she learned – is that two complete strangers could have lived almost identical lives, gone through all the same challenges, struggles, and trauma; client One is happy, striving for optimism and living her life as best she can, always making progress and growing. Client Two is miserable, pessimistic, and always on a downward spiral of harmful decision-making, seemingly with no end in sight.
What is the difference between client One and client Two? Same background, job, family, relationships…
The obvious answer: choice. No matter what happens to us, we are always left with our agency. How we use that agency will determine whether or not our trials and challenges can be a catalyst to our betterment or “the time our lives fell apart, never to recover.”
There is also an interesting pattern when it comes to life’s many challenges, one that I see all the time. It seems that when a person fails to learn from mistakes they’ve made, or fails to take anything positive away from a hurtful experience, what they do instead is dwell on that pain/mistake – so much so that, inevitably, it happens again…and again, and again. Have you ever heard someone say, “Why do I always end up dating jerks!?” or, “This just always seems to happen to me”? I think you know where I’m going with this. If you didn’t figure it out in the first round, it looks like life won’t let you move on to the next challenge until you do.
Here’s the kicker – No one is immune to challenges! Everyone has life coming round and kicking them in the face once in a while! Sometimes, trials even like to move in uninvited and stink up the place until we wonder whether it might be a good idea to just let them have the place.
My point is, we all get them to one degree or another. I always want to hit people when I hear them say, “Man, life is tough” or, “Life is hard”. Compared to what? Life is simply life, it’s the only one you’ve got! Stop rolling in the filth of your own ego and self-defeat. Like Christopher Tidus says, “Take the cross off your back, use the wood to build a bridge and GET OVER IT.” Do you really want to be the person that blames their present AND their future on their past?
Your failures, challenges and pains can and SHOULD propel you forward, not backward. In fact, NOTHING in your life CAN propel you forward more than those “hard” times. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes! Embrace your mistakes as what they are: extremely valuable, hard-earned life lessons. The best part is it’s never too late. Take a thorough inventory of who you are and what you have been through. Is there more you can draw out of your own experiences? What about experiences of your friends and loved ones? (Yup, you can learn from them too, in fact, and I highly recommend it.)
I got to see the new Marvel movie “Dr Strange” last weekend. Yes, I’m mentioning my latest comic book movie experience. My favourite scene is a conversation when Strange realises that his fear of failure wasn’t the reason he was so successful in life, it was the reason he never became truly great. We must allow ourselves to try, accepting the possibility we will fail miserably. Then try again. And again. And again. Thank you, Marvel*.
This, combined with the other principles that I share (learned personally through my own extremely successful streak of failures) can enable you to live a truly significant life.
*DC reigns supreme (in my heart)