Why you should be open to failure, being wrong and sucking at life

Man screaming with hand over his face, as if he made a mistake

Failure sucks. 

It’s painful, embarrassing and can make you feel worthless. 

We all want to feel good about ourselves, but when we fail, self doubt creeps in. It’s no wonder that most dudes avoid failure at all costs. 

But you shouldn’t. 

As I’ve mentioned in previous books, like An Ordinary Dude’s Guide to Meditation and An Ordinary Dude’s Guide to Habit, failure is a natural, normal part of life that should be embraced. Think about it. 

When you were a toddler, you failed countless times a day. 

You tried to walk, you’d fall down. You tried to talk, you’d just babble some nonsense. You’d fail and fail again. But you kept going. Children want to get better and emulate adults. They see the amazing things their parents easily do, like drive a car, wrap a present, cook some pasta and so on. Toddlers don’t worry about failure, their minds are focused on improvement. They just want to be like mom and dad. And my guess is they don’t even know what failure is. It’s something we learn as we get older.

From this example, I hope you can see that failure is a normal, natural part of life. You could even say that as humans we’re designed to fail. That’s how we get better. 

How to get over failure

There’s much we can learn from children, like resilience, curiosity about the world and the constant push to improve.

No matter your age or where you are in life, new discoveries are all around us. Even at 37, I discover new things every week, things that amaze me and make life easier. But you have to be open to new experiences to see them. 

Many people are afraid of change. But change is one of life’s only universal truths. And in our fast-paced world, it happens at an ever increasing pace. Accept this. Welcome it and realize that as things change, failure will happen. 

But don’t dwell on it. 

When you fail, reflect on what you can learn from it and move forward. In Hal Elrod’s book The Miracle Equation, he suggests following the five-minute rule. This means that when you fail, you can bitch and moan about it for five minutes but that’s it. Afterwards, you must let it go and move on. 

In theory, I like Hal’s approach. But personally, I think five minutes may be too short for some people, especially if accepting failure is a new thing. The point is, if you need to sulk for a day or two after a big failure, just do it. But during this, step out of the rat race for a bit. If you keep yourself busy, you won’t process the failure. You’ll just ignore it. Busyness can be like a medication that suppresses symptoms. 

Instead, take time for quiet. You can go walk in a park for a few hours or lay in the grass, or even just turn off your phone and lie on your couch, staring into space. It doesn’t have to be complicated. But when you take time for quiet and less activity, you rip the bandaid off and let the failure sink in. It will sting. Again, if you want to be angry about it, go ahead. If you want to cry about it, also okay. Just experience the failure, think about what you can do differently and then move on. Why? Because there is no point to dwell. What does it add to your life? How does it make it better? I think you know the answers. 

A new way to think about mistakes

What if I told you that failure wasn’t really failure, but a process of discovery? This is how children think about failure, and it’s part of the reason why they learn so much so quickly. 

Now, I’m not telling you to pretend failure doesn’t exist or live in a state of denial. 

But to actually gain from failure you need to think differently about it—not as a terrible thing, but as a normal part of life and an inevitable milestone on the road to improvement. Because if you’re not failing, you’re not getting better. Is what I’m saying here really so hard to believe? Is it not true? 

Just ask yourself these questions and you’ll see I’m not asking you to buy into some crazy way of thinking. I’m just pointing out facts of life, asking you to acknowledge them and incorporate this way of thinking into your week. 

Change how you think about failure and it will affect your actions and start to create some positive outcomes. Yes, you’ll likely make some big missteps when you shift your thinking in this way because suddenly you open yourself up to failure and are more aware of it because it’s on your mind. 

But the more you practice this way of thinking, the less failure will seem like a big deal, and the more it will seem normal and natural. What’s more, you’ll also be improving yourself. 

Step out of your comfort zone

This week, try something new, learn a new skill or even just watch a new movie or read a new book. 

The process may seem scary. But it can also be exciting. 

Just think. 

When you overcome a failure, what type of person will you become? How will you improve and look at the world differently? 

The process of learning and failure can open your world up to a whole new realm of possibilities. You could become someone, or achieve things you may have never even dreamed of. It could be awesome. But you’ll never know if you don’t try. 

So get out there, take some risks, be open to failure and discover what’s out there waiting for you.

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