What does failure offer us? The wisdom of experience, humility, persistence, adaptability, and resilience. Failure tests us, forces us to fall back upon our resources of intelligence and passion and (sometimes) our willingness to live. Failure can be the best education in the world for those who reflect upon it, because we learn the most about our own limitations and our own character when we fail.
Lots of people crumble amidst failure. Some run away, never to return. Others turn to self-medication, or some other escape from perceived "shame." But like it or not (and you need not like it), life is largely a question of how you deal with failure. We try. We fail. Then what?
And yes, it's important to be smart and have a great plan, a roadmap for where you want to go in life, but life is so often more complex and surprising than we'd imagined. "My life went exactly according to plan," said no one, ever. We have to make choices, always, and those choices define us as people. So often, it is failure that brings us to the crossroads, taking us places we'd never expected to go. These places can be scary and dark, but they can be amazing and joyous too. Life happens outside our comfort zones, as we navigate failure, loss, and inevitable "changes of plan."
I was a teacher for over a decade, and I always tried to create a safe, supportive, and caring space for my students to fail. I'd challenge them to move beyond what they'd learned yesterday, to see the next step, the next insight. Most of all, I told them that learners need to be comfortable with failure and the messiness of learning. If you want to learn, to master anything, you need to be comfortable with failure, to stare it in the eye. My students used to laugh when I'd gleefully re-frame their mistakes as "learning opportunities," but that's exactly what mistakes are. Whether you take advantage of those opportunities is up to you, but you won't grow if you don't. I always told my students they needed to fail and make mistakes, and not to attach shame to their mistakes.
I don't like the stigmatization of failure, the shame people seem to associate with it. Failure is one of the few things that unites us all, humanizes us and defines us. We should be talking about failure openly, with an appreciation for what it teaches us. Beckett had it right -- keep trying, keep failing, get better, but you'll always be failing. Learn to manage failure -- your own failures and those of the people around you. Failure can build great character, can build great companies (if you can't manage failure, you should never start or run a business or any project, because those things are all about learning from failure), and failure can build communities too.
Another great writer, Ernest Hemingway, had it right too: "we're all broken, but some of us are stronger in the broken places." We all need to work on our broken places, despite the fear, the pain, and the (insert your inhibition here), because those are the places that give us the best opportunities to grow, to be different, to gain empathy, to be fully human, to tell stories that connect us with others, to find grace and mercy and acceptance of ourselves and others. I certainly don't like to fail or to lose or to suffer, and I don't want you to think I'm celebrating failure, but failures (small and large) are the moments when we can learn the most important lessons in life. Use failure wisely, and keep failing better and better. By doing so, you'll find growth and grace and your future too.