Failure is The Best Teacher, Keep Learning
How many times can you learn the same lesson? Till you keep failing.
Failing is something everyone experiences. It sucks, but we finally come around to accept the reality in front of us. Failing is nothing but reality’s way of coming into your plans. Our thoughts are just a simplified model of reality that help us navigate it, but as much as we can try, we cannot fully comprehend reality and hence we keep failing.
When do we not fail? When we don’t try hard enough, we don’t fail. If we don’t challenge ourselves, we don’t fail. If we don’t act, we don’t fail. If we don’t promise, we don’t fail. The only way to keep learning is to keep failing.
Sometimes our failures are really not failures, but headwinds that keep us from reaching our destinations. Even if we are trying hard enough, we still fail because our efforts are not good enough. Sometimes we keep trying and failing just so that we can become stronger and more persistent, and build abilities that help us reach some other goals.
But failures are a source of a lot of anguish and they tend to keep you up late. Let me list some of my most important repeated failures and some of the reasons I keep failing.
1. Doing more things than I can handle
I have a tendency of over-estimate my capability and underestimate how hard it is to do things that are of very high quality. This is a deadly combination. You get a false sense of security that you move forward, but in reality, every step you take, creates many additional loopholes. It is like building on a weak foundation. Ultimately it comes back to bite you. A better approach is to make sure every brick you lay is so solid so that you don’t have to revisit it all the time.
The reason for this failure is the insecurity that I have that I am not doing enough or doing things fast enough. But somehow we have reached a stage where it seems to be enough, and the skill of building things with more stability is slowing growing.
I keep failing here because I keep pushing for more speed, but speed in it self is a good thing. If I persist, I will learn how to build with stability and extremely high speed. Hence my failing in stability is only making my abilities more complete.
2. Not understanding people’s motivations and backgrounds
I always assume that most people are as passionate as I am about doing something significant. I do not realize that good meaning, hard working people may not be ambitious or may not have the appetite to take big risks. I always believe that given a chance, most people will want to show that they really care about what they do, but in reality, they may just be struggling to find their own place. This creates friction with people who work with me. I have much higher expectations from them, than they have from themselves.
The reason for this is probably, life has been good for me, and I have had access to good training and resources from early in life and it has allowed me to be ambitious and pursue goals larger than myself. But this may not be the case for a lot of people who work with me. They may have very little comprehension for the goals that may lie outside of them but yet achievable. Specially in India, it may be harder to meet people who have been lucky to be able to realize this.
The upside is that, maybe this uncomfortable situation, and apparent lack of empathy helps my colleagues work harder and ultimately be more fulfilled human beings. It helps me to keep looking for people who are really motivated like me and are also looking for opportunities that will help them work on problems that transcend themselves.
3. Not understanding different and established ways of working
To tackle any problem, I have always had a self belief to start from first principles. There is a good reason the phrase re-inventing the wheel has been invented, because I keep doing that all the time. My wife always tells me that I have very little ability to follow someone’s instructions. Even in an emergency, I find myself unsure and hesitant to blindly do something if I have not clearly understood it.
The reason for this is that my entire thinking is driven around the question why? If I am not sure why, I will not be able to give 100% into the work. The problem here is that there are lots of things I have to do or get done, where I don’t fully understand the situation, let alone understand why?. Family and relationships a great example, where I struggle to keep in touch with people whom I don’t regularly meet because I don’t see the reason of keeping in touch. Sometimes just doing something, or just showing up is a sign of support and human instinct that does not come naturally to me.
I have come to accept that some people are built like me (and society does needs its skeptics). The person who questions almost always sticks out as a sore thumb, but only initially. Even if I am in the minority but I believe in a different model, and if the model is indeed better, then I will only go from strength to strength and people will ultimately come around accepting me. As Robert Frost aptly puts it:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The failures that I have highlighted have all to do with my ambition to learn more, do more and expect more from others. Clearly I am on a war-path and failure is my most faithful companion. There is no guarantee that I succeed. If the road less traveled by leads to a dead end, then people will be ready to say “I told you so”. But if it leads to something bigger, then I can finally breathe a sigh.
Some people believe that the journey is itself the destination. I don’t believe that. The journey is the the only certainty, the destination is a gift you may or may not receive. The only other certainty is failure, which appears even more ominous when you take the path less traveled. With gusty winds and dust blowing your way, and dark clouds in the horizon, the deeper you go, the more lost you get, you think of nothing but failure.
It is the only thing that might take you to your destination.