My article on Handling Failure in the Parsi NewPaper Jame Jamshed. The article coveys popular ideas from inspirational stories….Read on and do share.
Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, is celebrated as the being world’s youngest self-made billionaire. However, few know that he was a Harvard drop-out and his first company as co-owner was a dismal failure. In his words “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”
Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb supposedly had 10,000 failed trials of his famous invention. He was quoted as saying, “I have found 10,000 ways something won’t work. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”
None of these stories mean that failure is a positive experience- we all tend to feel disappointed and sad when things don’t go well. However, what is important is our attitude towards events of failure, and how we overcome them. Keep these simple thoughts in mind the next time life throws you a challenge.
Failure is an event, not a person: Failing at something does not make you a failure, so don’t personalise the failure. Separate it from your identity. The more you see yourself as a ‘failure’ the less you are likely to keep trying to rectify the failure.
The inspirational story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, on whom the film “PadMan” is based, is an example of this. Murugunatham saw his wife using old rags for sanitary pads and wanting to help her he tried to come up with an indigenous prototype that failed terribly. Thereafter, he used different materials and came up with new models for sanitary pads every month. He faced not only failure but rejection and ridicule from his family and the world. However, he persisted and 6 years later was successful in inventing an easy-to-use machine for producing low-cost sanitary pads, whereby women could not only manufacture their own sanitary napkins but could also sell them and earn revenue. His story exemplifies how he viewed each failed attempt as merely another event, learnt from it and finally attained success.
Failure or success are a journey, not a destination. We live in the faulty thinking that “we will reach success”, therefore seeing success as a destination which if we arrive at, we will never fail. Instead success and failure are experiences that happens along one’s life journey, and the destination we have to reach is actually a path, not a goal.
Tripti Mishra, an Asst Prof from Delhi, was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at age 17. Due to the episodes of depression and mania she lost self-confidence, and in her words “ran away” from her B.Sc exam hall multiple times. Yet today her academic degrees read B.Sc, B.tech, M.tech, Ph.D, MBA. She defines her life as a “game of snakes and ladders”, where she would slowly climb a ladder, only to receive a snake-bite (an episode), and she would fall several rungs. I heard Tripti speak recently at a conference and was touched by the heartfelt account of her struggle with Bipolar Disorder. She is a true fighter who viewed life with a cheerful, positive spirit; and took each of these “snake-bites” as temporary setbacks, and yet continued ahead.
Failure is difficult because we are all addicted to social approval. All of us humans, because we are social animals, seek to be liked and approved of. If we fail at something, we deeply fear rejection. However, no one walks in your shoes or can live your experiences. The reasons for the failure and how to overcome it, are only know to you. Listen to what others have to say, but don’t take it to heart. Super Star Rajinikanth was recently listed by NDTV among the 25 Greatest Global Living Indian Legends. Few know that the person who today has achieved a cult status, began life as a humble bus conductor, earning a meagre living. What is important is he has never been afraid of rejection for his humble beginnings, and instead says “An ordinary bus conductor sharing the dais with the greatest living legends is a miracle”
Failure becomes important, only because we give it importance: Thinking constantly about the failure doesn’t change the outcome. It only magnifies the outcome and intensifies the negative feelings associated with it. I tell my clients to indulge in ONE day of self-pity. Curse yourself, feel sorry for yourself, get it out of the system and move on.
And whose life can be a better example of this than Dr Abdul Kalam, the former President of India. In his autobiography ‘Wings of Fire’, Dr Kalam narrates one of his life’s biggest failures. In 1979, Dr Kalam was the Project Director for the trial launch of SLV3 (Satellite Launch Vehicle) from Sriharikota. Precisely 317 seconds after the launch, the flight was aborted and the remains of the test vehicle crashed into the Indian Ocean. What an embarrassment for Dr Kalam- the whole nation was watching him! Moreover, as the flight crashed, each of his past failures also flashed before his eyes. How did Dr Kalam handle this failure? At the national level he accepted responsibility, but at the personal level he did not brood. His team members supported him through this crisis; but more importantly he analysed the causes, learnt from mistakes, became wiser, and continued his work. The next year, 1980, he successfully launched the Rohini Satellite into orbit. This was a momentous day in the history of India, and declares the true spirit of this leader.
Failure offers us resilience. The more we fail, the more our brain learns to adapt to a difficult situation, and we develop new coping skills. Never under-estimate your human capacity to bounce back. We are actually bigger than our problems- and superstar Amitabh Bachchan’s life story reminds us of this. In the 1960s, the Bollywood legend was rejected by All India Radio for having too deep a voice, the same voice that we today find inspirational! After achieving super-success, he tanked to the bottom with dismal flops, as well as the failure of his production company but bounced back with the mega success of KBC, and regained his superstar status. This is one person who defines resilience.
Failure has nothing to do with our stars or destiny, or luck. If good luck favoured us all, then we would all be mega millionaires. And if bad luck defined success, then we would not have Dhirubhai Ambani. Born into a middle-class Gujrati family, Dhirubhai saw poverty in his early days. His father was a schoolteacher, while Dhirubhai himself used to sell “Bhajias” to support his family. His first job, at age 16, was in Yemen where he worked as a gas station attendant and clerk in an oil company. Dhirubhai is today listed in the Forbes 500 list, not due to good luck but due to sheer hard work and a staunch belief in his own abilities.
It would be rare to find a huge success story that does not have huge failure associated with it. And as these live examples themselves teach us, failures are a critical enabler of success. What sets apart these stalwarts is their ability to forge ahead despite the failures. That’s an inspiration we can borrow from them, and turn each of our losses into stories of true victories.