Nick Crohn

Sr. JavaScript Developer

On Failure

A truth about how we succeed

This is an exercise in failure. Yes, the article is going to fail. It's something I am convinced of though, that will eventually lead me to a successful article. I am writing this in a much larger endeavor to improve my writing. Writing for an audience has always been something of a challenge for me. How do I approach the writing? Will it make sense? Are my points getting made without boring my readers? But, my writing isn't exactly what this is about, I want to talk about failure.

The reality of trying something is you will inevitably fail. Say it with me, "I am going to fail." Wonderful, now that you admit it, you can embrace what that means. Failing means learning, learning means improving, and improving means you won't fail as often. Let's talk about failing. There are two types of failing, the good kind and the bad kind. Obviously, since you already stated that you're going to fail, I should at least set you in the right direction.

Bad failing is the kind where you admit defeat, give up, go home, and pout. I don't like that kind of failing, so I'm just going to skip right over it and talk about the good kind of failing.

When you fail, and you try and understand why you failed, and you learn from it, that is a good failure. It takes time and understanding to really learn from our failings, but it is important. For a lot of us, as we get older, this becomes a hard thing to do. Which is interesting, considering we are programmed to succeed from birth. Watch a baby learn to walk, they fall constantly. And almost immediately get up and try again. They have no fear of failing because they can get right back up and try for another step. Again, watch an infant as they play with their blocks and attempt to fit a square peg into a round hole. In fact, they are encouraged to fail, because we want them to succeed. It's only as they get older that failure becomes discouraging.

When I started college I began in what I thought was my ideal program, mechanical engineering. I love making things, seeing how they work, understanding the world around me. Now if you've read my bio, you know how this story ends. I am not a mechanical engineer, because I failed. I didn't fail my classes, I actually did pretty good. What I failed at was picking the right degree. It wasn't an immediate discovery. It took an entire semester of chemistry for engineers, spent learning the different combinations of iron and carbon. And how they form all different types of steel. Tack on a semester engineering 101 and using excel to build supply chain management algorithms to decipher the most efficient way to keep shelves stocked and warehouses empty. It deflated me. The reality of facing the true nature of mechanical engineering stopped my desires, abruptly. It forced me to really seek out my passions and truly find what I wanted to do. Eventually I did find my path, after a few more failed attempts of course. Each time though, I learned a little more about what I wanted to do. Little did I know, I was in fact learning to fail.

So why is it then, that we are afraid of failure? My theory is as we fail when we are younger, we are reprimanded for our short comings. It's often the case that we are incapable of understanding what it is that we did wrong. After a certain age, our environment is designed to discourage failure and promote success. Family's look to their kids to do well in school and get good grades. Bad test scores that are taken home are looked down upon, rather than on a way we can improve. The focus is on succeeding. This isn't the case for everyone though. Those of us fortunate enough to have encouraging environments are given support in our failures and guided to learn. This does however present another possibility as we get older. Complacency.

The more we fail, the more we succeed. The more we succeed, the less we fail. As we fail less, we become complacent and become averse to taking risks. The less risks we take, the less we fail and the cycle compounds itself. Sometimes so much that we become so complacent that we stop trying new things all together.

Complacency isn't necessarily a bad thing, there are, I'm sure, plenty of people quite happy with the status quo. I am not one of those people. I also don't think they are the ones reading this article. What I do think, is that we can easily overcome our fear of failing by very simply trying something new and taking that risk.

So before we wrap this up, I think it is worth mentioning that it is important that we continue to fail. As we learn and begin to succeed more we won't be challenged as much. That is when we need to push ourselves that little bit further and go outside of our boundaries. We must try even harder to fail. Because really, how do we know what we are truly capable of if we don't?

Where does that leave us? Am I saying we should all get up and go start the next Amazon? Well, maybe. If that's something you want to do, then do it. It entirely depends on how big and how much failure you're willing to accept. Once you've figured it out and have made peace with the likelihood of failing, you no longer have a good reason to stop you from succeeding. I have taken my first step and it's entirely possible I have failed. But you know what? I'm okay with that because I'll only get better because of it.