Failures as a basis for success

We are all trying to improve – otherwise I would not be writing this blog and you would not be reading it. The path of improvement comes through risk of failure and occasional failures. The higher rewards usually come with higher risk attached (otherwise it is an arbitration opportunity). Occasional failures happen to everyone, searching for higher rewards we are vulnerable to more failures. The question is: how do we live comfortably with constant risk of failure?

Risk aversion is normal human behavior. We like to win and hate to fail. Occasional failures have very high price tag, so it may be wise to avoid some risks altogether. As we are successful we either fear to take risks stagnate and lose, or get overconfident and take higher risks than we would usually find acceptable. Making impartial decision trees and analysing odds may work for some, but probably would involve too many speculations for most people. So if we are risk-averse, we may change our mind with unexpected crisis, or reduction of risk-safe rewards. E.g. if the bank promises us 5% per year risk-free, most people will prefer not to invest in stocks, but if the rate is 0%, many people will invest in stocks and risky derivatives. Taking chances together with everybody else often increases the risk, so it is better to take deliberate and measured risks from time to time than massive risk forced by third party.

So we take risks, maybe win some but ultimately also loose some. From time to time we will lose more than we won. Here we get in pain and grief. This is the point where many people give up just to feel better. This is also the point where real life heros are born. Real life heroes learn from their mistakes, are transformed and empowered by new determination, look carefully for new signs they would previously miss, and reach their goals eventually.

The thought process at the bottom point of failure is especially important as a clue for future progress. It is very similar to 5 stages of grief.

  • At the beginning we are in denial. We blame luck, we blame others – there was no our fault in failure. The detachment helps us to deal with aftershocks of failure. As the fallout resides, we can finally think clearly, and we start to understand our own involvement in the process.
  • Next we try our luck again with a slightly different setup, hoping that the small changes we made will change our luck. Unfortunately, most of the times this is not the case and we fail again.
  • At this stage, we become too desperately to deal with the issue ourselves and seek for outside help. If we are lucky, we find a mentor who already passed the process more than once, and will point out the possible reasons of failure and how to overcome them.
  • Once we start to see the reasons of our failure, it still takes a long time till we can accept them emotionally and devise a plan to overcome them.
  • Finally, when we are poised for success, we need to face our fears again, this time after suffering from failure. Real life heroes are capable of doing just that. Are you?

This post is a bit personal for me. I am still daling with massive failure I suffered in one of my startups. In hindsight I was overconfident and nearsighted, many of the errors could be easily avoided. After the failure I was in pain and out for work for almost a year. It took me almost 5 years not only to accept the failure emotionally, but also to accept that it made me a better man. With this post, I am closing the cycle.

Our last failure is our best teacher. If we are good students, our next failure will be different. And if we are somewht lucky, our next try will be a success. So if you feel that you failed, look for your inner hero, and try reaching your goals again – wiser and more confident.

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