Failure isn’t something that happens. Failure is our judgement on something that happens.
You look at something, and you think, “I failed at that.” Even though you did better than your friend. Because you know you could have done better than that if you’d just worked harder or spent more time on it or remembered to save the document before you closed down the computer.
If you write a book, and it stays on your computer and nobody ever reads it, then yes: if you intended to become a successful published author, you’ve failed. But if your intention was to write a book, you’ve succeeded. It’s only a failure because it’s not the outcome that you decided.
If you get a B in an exam, the system thinks you passed. But you were predicted an A for that subject, so to yourself, you’ve failed. Because you could have done better. Because it’s not what you were aiming for.
It’s about where you set your goals.
If you set your goals low enough, you’ll never fail. Which is great for your ego, but useless in the long run. You have to fail at things to know how to get better at them. It’s like that old saying that courage isn’t the absence of fear. Courage is overcoming those fears.
Success isn’t the absence of messing things up, it’s the refusal to accept those screw-ups as failures.
You want to be published. But don’t make your goal ‘being published’. Make your goal ‘sending out three query letters’ or ‘entering three competitions’ – because these are things you can control. You decide if they get done. Publishing is a tricky business and you can’t actually predict how things are going to work out. Even if you do your very best, it might not happen.
But you can control how much you work towards it, and those should be your goals.
‘Failing’ isn’t shameful, just as falling off a horse isn’t shameful if you get right up and climb back on. If, however, you lie in the dirt groaning and never ride a horse again (barring paralysis, which is an acceptable excuse), that’s shameful. Because you gave up.
Don’t give up when you fail.
Failing at something doesn’t make you a failure, either. It just means you didn’t succeed at that particular thing at that particular time. There are so many things you might do really well in the future. So just because you’ve messed up today, doesn’t mean you can’t be wonderful tomorrow. You’re not a failure if you get things wrong.
Failure isn’t a thing that happens, failure isn’t something you can’t control. ‘Failure’ is just your perception of what you’ve done.
So stop thinking about it like that.
Nothing ventured is nothing gained. Set yourself goals that will help you but that you can achieve. Take risks.
Because in the end, what’s the worse that can happen? You might miss one of your ‘goals’ and your competition entry might not get through – but you might not. You might get there. Your chances may be slim but they’re non-existent if you don’t do it.
Don’t accept your screw-ups as failures. 200 mistakes before you succeed is not ‘no results’, as it was once said: it’s learning that 200 things don’t work. So that you can try something else.
You’re not a failure if you mess up. Be bold. Do something else.
This post was inspired by a discussion in my church youth group about risks and failure, and by the Teens Can Write Too pitch contest currently running. Check it out – that might be a risk you want to take.