You burnt your toast in the morning...
You have been playing table tennis for years... yet you haven't gotten your invite to the Olympics...
You just sent your colleague an email telling them they were "fart oo nice" after catching up...
You are an Asian child growing up in a household where perfection is expected. There is immense pressure to excel in everything you do, whether it's specialist maths or swimming or piano or Taekwondo or ballet or violin or public speaking or chess... You are constantly reminded of the sacrifices your immigrant parents made to provide you with a better future, and the burden of living up to their expectations is suffocating. As you grow older, the fear of failure becomes more and more crippling. You become so scared of making mistakes that you avoid taking risks or trying new things. The thought of not being perfect is too overwhelming to bear, and you are paralysed by the fear of disappointing your parents and letting them down. This fear follows you into adulthood and affects every aspect of your life. You are afraid to speak up at work, scared to pursue your passions, and terrified of taking any kind of risk. It feels like you are living in a constant state of anxiety and stress, never truly allowing yourself to experience joy or fulfillment.
You know failure.
The lack of success
I have no doubt that all of us have experienced some form or degree of failure in our lives. And almost always, failure is a word that evokes a feeling of disappointment and despair. It's a word that has been associated with negativity and shame.
However recently, I came across a video that retested and challenged my thinking on failure.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is a professional NBA player. Considered one of, or if not, the best basketball player of current times (many of my friends say he looks like me). In 2021, his team won their first NBA championship in 50 years. Despite having the best record in the regular season and another favourite to win the title again, the Bucks get eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Giannis, naturally, gets asked whether this season was considered a failure.
This video gave me a shock reminder that failure does not always have to be a bad thing. In fact, failure can be the first step towards success.
The ethos of failure
First, let's start with the literal definition of failure. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, failure is "lack of success in doing or achieving something." By this definition, it is easy to see why failure is associated with negativity. When we fail, we feel like we have not met the expectations that were set for us, whether they were our own expectations or those of others.
Why do we fear failure?
Perhaps it's because we live in a society that values perfection and success above all else. Society has created an ethos around failure that has made it difficult for people to recover from it. We're taught from a young age that failure is shameful and something to be avoided at all costs. We're told (whether implictly - like the frown on your mother's face - or explicity - being told that you're shit at something) that mistakes are a sign of weakness or incompetence. But this mindset is not only limiting, but I truly believe it is harmful.
The reality is that failure is inevitable. No matter how skilled or experienced we are, we will make mistakes. It's how we respond to those mistakes that matters most. Do we give up or do we learn from them and use them as an opportunity to improve?
In my opinion, the desired ethos of failure is about embracing the inevitability of mistakes and using them as a stepping stone to success. It is not always about the outcome but often about the process. It is about reframing our perspective on failure and seeing it not as a setback but as a valuable learning experience.
The truth is, failure is not something to be ashamed of. It's a natural part of life, and it's through our failures that we learn and grow.
Continuing my theme of ACTIONABLE things you can do. Here are four skills I think that are critical in tackling the beast called failure:
- Change your mindset 🧠 - The first step in embracing failure is to shift your mindset. Instead of seeing mistakes as a sign of weakness, view them as an opportunity to learn and grow. Reminder: Don't make excuses for your mistakes, take accountability, own them and fix it. In my time in professional services, my highlights have always been how I have bounced back from taking ownership of my mistakes and coming back stronger.
- Reframe the perspective 🔎- When you make a mistake, try to see it as a valuable learning experience. Ask yourself what you can learn from the situation and how you can use that knowledge to improve in the future. Research shows that if you don't do this, the chance of you making the same mistake is approximately 110%.
- Embrace the unknown 👻- We often fear failure because it means stepping into the unknown. Whether it is trying a new sport, learning a new skill or an attempt to court for a partner. During my time at Deloitte, I had to learn how to code over one weekend. Appropriately called the "trial by fire" by my partner, that weekend was one for the books (which could be longer than the Bible). However, limping away from that experience, it is by embracing the successes and failures learning a new skill that made me truly believe I am ready for any challenge in the future. The unknown can be an opportunity for growth and discovery.
- Laugh 🤣- From my previous posts, you are probably sensing that laughter is the solution to everything. Well, it is true. Especially in your voyage of having a happier life, you should always have fun even when things don't go your way. Humour is a great way to diffuse the internal tension that sits rent-free in your head.
Embracing failure is like skydiving without a parachute. It might seem impossible, but you'll learn the importance of a mindset change and embracing the unknown (you might even laugh about it later!).
If Michael Jorden felt miserable for every basketball shot he failed to make, he'd be a very sad man... But this picture of him smoking a cigar on an $80 million dollar superyacht called "JOY" tells me otherwise.
Funny enough... Here's an actual quote from him:
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.
Thanks Giannis for the reminder, and thanks Michael Jordan for making me jealous.