The Serendipity of Failure

Many great discoveries happened when people were looking for something else entirely.

Yesterday, I invited my sister to come over and go through my New Years Resolution Template (you can download it here) with me. A few questions down, I saw that I had added a category entitled “Failures.” At first glance, it was a straightforward question with easy answers. I failed at finding a job right out of college. I failed at meeting my desired blog traffic. I failed at marketing my first book well. In retrospect, I even failed at writing that book - it has some good content, but I know I could do better now.

Yet, despite being labeled a “failure,” each of these shortcomings have led to something meaningful and worthwhile. If I would have gotten a job right out of college, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work on all of the incredible projects through my marketing internship. I also wouldn’t have had the time to invest in this blog and create better content for you guys. If I had met my desired blog traffic so soon, I may not have cultivated the inner motivation to keep writing through the dry seasons. If I had marketed my first book well and sold thousands of copies from the start, I may not have understood the concept of a passion project - doing something because you love it despite its reception. If I would have kept perfecting my book, rewriting drafts and prolonging the launch, I wouldn’t have met my goal of being an author by 21 or had the motivation to start this blog.

Every single “failure” ended up strengthening my resolve and my will. The direct result of those “failures” has been manifested in my devotion to the value and impact of this blog. Your failures are often indirect successes.

Recognizing the truth of this statement lies heavily in your perspective. If you view each life event, good or bad, as an event that offers you the opportunity to shape who you are, though you may not enjoy the moment, you will value each of those events. Life’s curveballs force your hand.

If nothing ever happened, the complacency of life would set in. Your attitude, your resolve, your character - it’s all invisible in the context of a mediocre life. When you win a million dollars or your house burns down… then who you truly are begins to take form. It’s like adding sodium iodate to a sodium sulfite / citric acid mixture. Your true colors show when life gets stirred up. A cheesy example, but a cool experiment in my opinion.

Experimenting with Failure

“Few of our own failures are fatal,”
— Tim Harford, economist and Financial Times columnist

Non-fatal failure offers a unique opportunity to experiment with life. Have you heard the question, “what would you do if you knew you wouldn’t fail?” It’s a great question because it gets people to consider what their most ambitious dreams are. Inevitably, the answer is followed up with some big shot telling you, “Now you know what you want. Go for it, kid!" Sadly, that all goes to crap when they take that dream to the bank because life doesn’t accept monopoly money. You’re going to fail - that much is certain. Whether it’s big or small, you’ll lose the game at some point. A more insightful question then, is, “what would you do if you knew failure wouldn’t be the end.” If you knew you would survive to live another day, to start another business, to go on another adventure, what would you attempt?

Failure offers you the opportunity to discover because you’ll be alright, kid.

The Serendipity of Failure

The crazy thing about understanding that failure often looks more like a scrapped knee than a severed artery is the serendipity of life. Many great discoveries happened when people were looking for something else entirely. Christopher Columbus was looking for India when he bumped into Central America. Failure? Sure, by his original standard. But take the “failure” on its own merit and he’s a world-renown explorer! In your own quest, be okay with failure because two or three steps down the wrong road and you might find something better than you had hoped.