Life Lessons: Why failing is such an important part of succeeding

For law students or lawyers, failing is not an option. From an early age, those who wish to ‘make it’ have to succeed. You’ve got to get good marks so you can attend a good university; then you need to excel at university so you’ll get that internship; you’ve got to prove how sharp you are in the internship so you’ll get taken on full-time or garner some other offers; standing out from the crowd is crucial at this point if you have any hope of making partner; you’ve got to impress that client because... etc, etc, etc. Success is just something that is expected. So, if we start from the premise of failure being possibly a good thing, it may sound heretical to some. Although perhaps this thinking has been touted by enough business leaders to have taken root in mass consciousness. Whichever case is true, the point bears repeating: failing can be a wonderfully positive thing.

On a recent episode of the Beyond Billables podcast, we were lucky enough to sit down with Alice Fraser. Alice studied Law at Sydney University and, upon graduation, she took up a position as a solicitor. Alice recounted for us how miserable this time in her life was. She was bored, stifled and unchallenged - things felt safe, mundane and uninspiring.

Her outlet during this time?

Standup comedy, which she undertook because it was ‘something I could fail at’. At first blush, this might sound a bit arrogant, but truthfully what it does is show what an immense character Alice is. It also ultimately helped her to navigate away from the law into a career that suited her better.

Failing reveals a lot about who you are and is an excellent self-discovery tool. There are quite a few famous examples of failures leading to success. Inventor Thomas Edison, whose most memorable invention was the light bulb purportedly took him 1,000 tries before he developed a successful prototype. Or Steve Jobs, who was famously fired from Apple before returning to lead the company to become one of the most valuable businesses of all time.

We bring up the examples of Alice, Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison to remind you that failure can serve a lot of positive functions in life. It can be personal development, it can teach someone to be humble and it can serve as a stepping stone to future achievements.

Let’s review some other key points.

Failing means you have the courage to try.

As trite as it may sound, this is undeniably true. Those who sit on the sidelines and never truly take a crack at something reduce their risk of failure considerably. But these people will never see the benefits that taking risks bring. Failing is a healthy gut check that pretty much everyone could use. It teaches you that you have courage, courage that can be relied on at critical times. Courage is not the absence of fear; it is feeling the fear and taking action anyway.

Failing at something can teach you invaluable lessons.

Having something not go according to plan is almost always the best opportunity we have as human beings to learn something. Whether you frame failure in a dejected way - ‘I’m no good at this’ - or constructively - ‘hmm I wonder why that didn’t work’ - can have huge ramifications in your life. In Alice’s case, starting out as a comic and having jokes not work was just part of the learning curve. She took these things as opportunities to hone her new craft and improve.

Failing makes you a stronger person.

You’ve probably heard the old adage, ‘fail your way to the top’. This phrase denotes the point that getting almost anywhere in life requires you to crash and burn sometimes. Failing tends to make you a stronger person. It provides the groundwork whereby in the future you can look back at your record and say, ‘hey, I made it through these things in the past, I can handle this.

Failing breeds new opportunities.

Not succeeding at something is rarely the end of the line. Many people subscribe to the ‘everything happens for a reason’ school of thought. Viewing through this lens allows failures to often bring unforeseen opportunities that would not have been available without said failure. To understand who you are and where you fit in this world, it's probably necessary that you spill a bit of blood or hit the wall once or twice. Failure to fail tends to indicate that a person is living comfortably within their confined world of predictability and comfort.

Failing gives you the best chance of succeeding.

Research conducted at Stand University shows that people who get to the top of their respective fields also tend to have the highest rates of failure. This may seem counterintuitive, but most successful people didn’t walk a gold-paved pathway to the top. They tried a lot of different things, they failed, they learned, they picked themselves back up and they kept going. They looked at failure not as a destination but simply an experience, a rite of passage on the way to bigger and better things.

Another astute point that Alice made during her podcast appearance was to question just how bad failing is in the first place. She points out that, for most people in Western countries, failure means having no money and having to start over. This really isn’t as terrible as you might think, and odds are there is some type of support system to help you back up.

For some people, finding something to fail at can be nothing more than a way to keep life interesting. For others, it can be hiccups on the journey to a better life and fulfilment. Whatever the case may be, it's worth it to stop and really think about your life. What are you afraid of doing? Is a fear of failure stopping you? Are you failing at anything? These are important questions and often a good place to start finding a way to live a happier life.