Nobody likes to get things wrong do they? We're all striving for perfection, or at least not to burn our toast in a morning. We view 'failures' as a negative - of course we do - else we'd never strive for anything better, would we? We do not want to look as though we don't care about what we do; falling short on tasks asked of us or continually getting the same things wrong. But can risking failure actually be a good thing? And should we actively do so?
Hint: If you missed the title of this blog post, the answer is yes. Here's why:
1. It opens your mind to new possibilities.
If you aren't open to failure you are essentially closing off an area of possibility. I would never have thought of putting lettering on a piece of toast if I didn't know it was possible to burn it. As it happens, lots of people forget about their toast and burn it too (no kidding), and although I appreciate that you don't all have the urge to craft artwork into bread before you catch your train to work, it may open the possibility of trying a different thing for breakfast, or having to call in somewhere new for a bacon sandwich instead. My point is that once a failure has been made you have three choices: to do the same thing again in the hope it works out better (make more toast), avoid doing the thing at all (don't eat breakfast) or try something different (blueberry pancakes anyone?). At worst if you are open to failure you can think about new breakfast alternatives for the week whilst you make another slice of toast. Seriously, the next time something goes wrong with your work, open your mind to alternative ways of working, or trying new things.
2. It helps you to identify what you really want
Sometimes I burn my toast and I realise that, actually, all I wanted that morning was a slice of toast (with lashings of butter and jam, just for the record). And if it's the last slice of toast I am all the more gutted (what can I say, I'm not a morning person). When this is applied to general work tasks failures can help me to assess that, yes, I was heading in the right direction and I really want the outcome all the more. Sometimes failures can drive you to your goals with more passion and make you appreciate the success more than you would without the struggle.
3. It helps you to connect
Have you ever met someone who hasn't burnt their toast? The chances are, if you tell people the story of how you burnt your toast this morning (admittedly not the most riveting of conversations) they will connect with it and have some sort of understanding of how incredibly annoying it is. When you make mistakes you connect with all of humanity; it humbles you and you are more likely to reach out to others. Failure can push you to seek out advice in order to get better at the task in hand, or it can enforce you to be direct and upfront and give working relationships more depth. I'm not suggesting it's always wise to broadcast your failures if they were unfortunate and make you look more unprofessional, but in most cases people are more accommodating of failure than they are of dishonesty.
4. The percentage of success is higher
The more you make toast, and risk burning it, the more likely it is that you will have success making a good slice of toast. If you avoid failure you also avoid success, so in order to keep getting better at what you do you have to keep risking the mistakes. The more I venture into my creative career, the more I learn that avoiding setbacks is not going to get me anywhere. I force myself to try uncomfortable things at the risk of failing (and, just for the record, it still pains me to do it just the same as it did five years ago). We think that discomfort is bad, when in reality it makes us grow. The recent discomfort of quitting my day job and risking 'failing' at my career has actually progressed my work in ways that it wouldn't have done otherwise. And the more I risk failing, the more chances I have of success (so I tell myself every morning, right after I've burnt my toast).
So, today I encourage you to think of ways in which you can embrace your failures and turn them into good things; to channel you into new areas and think a little differently, and ultimately bring success.
Oh, and can anyone recommend a toaster?