How Failure Can Help You In Life And Work

Image courtesy of doingithomeless.com
Image courtesy of doingithomeless.com

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail Better”

Samuel Beckett once wrote to fail better. In context his words were no more optimistic than the man who wrote them, but out of context, shaped by a society so eager to build failure as part of success, they have been adopted as the unofficial motto of aspiring greats. Entrepreneurs, hopeful writers, down-on-their-luck athletes, or business mavens, have at some point in their lives struggled to come to peace with failure—and certainly very many of those in the desperate throws of failure have turned (if not unintentionally) to Beckett’s wise words.

Yes, to fail better adds the positive spin to life we often need when in the grasp of failure, but that wasn’t what Beckett was trying to say. In fact his most famous passage that contains the simple phrase, “Fail again. Fail Better,” ends with him saying “Fail worse again. Still worse again. Till sick for good. Throw up for good.” Ending with a strong suggestion that we should all just give up entirely, and move to some far away island where we can sip Mojitos all day (reading between the lines of course.)

In truth though, Beckett is saying something quite different. Beckett presents the idea that there are two man-made options in life: to succeed or to fail. In his famous passage he isn’t saying we should give up on what we’re working towards, but rather he is suggesting giving up on looking at life in binaries—as either a series of successes or failures—and instead simply working to learn, improve, and grow.

In work, failure is often hard to cope with, in life, perhaps, even more so. When deadlines are missed, products are faulty, newly appointed managers are mismanaging, it can be difficult not to take work-related mishaps personally. Failure in work though, can help you and your company make great strides. Failure, unfailingly, leads to innovation. Whether it’s how to streamline an antiquated process because of a missed deadline, or how to construct a product the right way.

In fact our love of work related failure has created amazing results, like FailCon, a worldwide series of conferences at which technology heavyweights reveal their failures and their road to eventual success. Others, like Admitting Failure, created by the Canadian Engineers Without Borders, encourages non-governmental organizations to contribute stories of failure to help teach future aid workers what does and doesn’t work. There are now a multitude of organizations and conventions that utilize the failures of others as a jumping off point for future successes. When asked whether or not failure or success can teach an employee more, the answer among top CEOs is unanimously failure. In the presence of failure, our true selves show through, how we work under humbling conditions and how we persevere after mountains of mishaps, is when we become uncompromisingly, ourselves.

While we generally discuss positive failure in the context of work, it exists in our homes as well. Missed anniversaries, failure to accomplish preconceived plans, or just a failure to be the person we want to be, are not surprisingly, much more difficult to handle than a missed deadline at work. Our attitude towards failure in a corporate context, though, can teach us a lot about handling failure in life.

There is no right way to grow up, or grow old. There is no distinct deadline for accomplishing certain feats. Failure in life is a sign we’re not ready yet for what we working towards, whether romantically, academically, athletically, or other. Just like failure in work encourages innovation, failure in life teaches determination. Failure works as a barometer of passion—it proves to us definitively, what matters to us in life and what we are willing to fail again, fail better, and fail worse for.

If you’re to take one lesson from Beckett about failure it should not be to fail better, but to disregard failure and success all together. Trial and error are the fundamentals of progression, so be happy to fail, just as you’re happy to succeed.

What are your stories for how failure can help you in life and work? Let us know by commenting below or on our facebook page. As always stay up to date with all Wishlist news by following us here or on any of the social media platforms.

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