“Have no fear of perfection — you’ll never reach it.”
— Salvador Dali
Years ago, a mantra occurred to me, and over time it’s sunk deep into my bones:
Failure is only feedback.
Particularly in Western culture, we tend to have a dysfunctional, black-and-white perspective on failure.
We set up this false dichotomy of “failure” vs. “success,” and we all scramble around and try very hard to avoid the former and achieve the latter.
But what do these words actually mean?
When we take a close look, we find that “success” basically means, “creating a life that has more of what I want and less of what I don’t want.”
This means that “success” is a highly relative concept — relative to your particular values and worldview. One person’s idea of success might be running a Fortune 500 company, while another’s might be to live in a small cabin and simply be at peace with themselves and with life.
Whatever your definition of success, one thing is clear: You’re going to need to learn what works and what doesn’t work.
And how are you going to do that?
Through trying a lot of different things and making a mess, of course. : )
You have to take action, experiment, mess around, tinker, and make “mistakes” to learn how to be successful in anything.
Even if your definition of “success” is to simply be content in this moment, it might take you years of meditation, inner work, and self-experimentation—with plenty of miscalculations along the way—before you crack the code of inner tranquility.
Viewing “success” in this way, we can begin to see that “failure” is an inevitable, and indeed indispensable, part of the process of finding success in anything.
Without failure, there is no feedback on what doesn’t work.
Without missteps, we miss invaluable lessons on how to take the right step.
In this light, it becomes apparent that “success” and “failure” are not irreconcilable opposites. It becomes clear that the dichotomy of “success” or “failure” is a cultural myth. We see that it is impossible to avoid one and seize the other.
“Success” and “failure” can be more wisely conceptualized as inextricable Yin-and-Yang-esque components of any learning process.
The two are locked in an endless dance, and it is ultimately the interplay between the two that allows us to refine our tactics to create more of what excites us and less of what suffocates us.
So do not fear failure, friend.
Remember that it is only vital feedback. And feedback, though sometimes painful, makes everything better. There’s a reason the best editors are ruthless eliminators of the inessential.
Embrace feedback. Embrace failure. Learn to see that in stumbling, you are one step closer to flying.
And a final word of advice: Enjoy the process.
In my book, “success” means enjoying and savoring the entire journey, the entire process. There is no magical destination at which you will suddenly become Forever Happy And Fulfilled.
Life inevitably has ups and downs. It’s life-y like that.
But if we can learn to live skillfully, we can begin to take everything in with an attitude of playful non-resistance. We can relish the highs, appreciate and learn from the lows, have fun often, and direct the entire process in a generally upward-spiraling direction, toward greater degrees of well-being, prosperity, and tranquility.
And if it all comes crashing down?
Well, that sounds like some damn invaluable feedback. ; )