I sometimes feel that the way we approach failure is lacking. Or rather, I sometimes feel that the absence of discussion about failure causes us problems later on in our lives. Let me explain what I mean.
Like many people, my childhood involved a pretty standard approach to the topics of success and failure. And by that, I mean to say that success was celebrated, and failure was not. Success was measured in good grades, achievements, accolades, and other markers that celebrated an effort resulting in accomplishment. Failure? Not so much.
Though the way we've come to realize failure is not necessarily wrong, there are some problematic consequences that stem from an inability to understand and accept it. The condition of modern society is highly competitive and super charged with many rat-race-running, failure-fearing individuals, and this deeply affects our attitude towards failure. It may be why many millennials struggle with entitlement. It may be why some individuals crumble under pressure and never bounce back.
What I do know is that the over-emphasis of success in modern culture perpetuates the belief that we can all be on an error-free path. But what happens to the people who believe that lie, and fail? What happens when that business venture falls through? Or your start up gets rejected? Those who have never confronted or recognized failure are left without the means to turn rock bottom into the fertilizer they need to grow new success.
Now more than ever, we need to start talking about failure as life's master instructor. Experiences in failure are less about not finding success than they are about problem solving, and the skills cultivated as a by-product of failure are the skills many brilliant entrepreneurs have only come to possess by failing. Here are a few such "failures."
1. JK Rowling
One of the most powerful modern writers whose net worth hovers around $1 billion was once living on welfare. After a divorce that left her a single mother, she was admittedly "as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless." It was this rock bottom moment that cleared away distractions that had been keeping her from working on a brilliant idea that would later become the famed Harry Potter series.
2. Walt Disney
Disney is a name recognized in every country around the world, but it wasn't always that way. Before the Magic Kingdom and Disney empire was built, Walt Disney was a writer at the Kansas City Star. He was fired for lacking imagination and good ideas, and proceeded to experience several more failed business ventures before finding success with "Snow White."
3. Oprah Winfrey
The woman with a TV network, magazine, book, talk show and more was fired for the very gift that sky-rocketed her to fame and fortune. As a young professional, she was fired from her first TV job as a news anchor for being too emotionally invested in the stories she covered.
4. Steven Spielberg
Spielberg is a beacon of hope for students rejected by their dream school, because he was rejected by the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts multiple times. Today, the profit of his movies exceeds $9 billion and he has received countless awards and nominations of his own, including multiple Academy Awards and Emmys, all without a Cinematic Arts degree from USC.
5. Lady GaGa
After three short months with record label Island Def Jam, Lady GaGa was dropped. As a young artist, she was incredibly distraught and found herself at rock bottom, without record label representation. But her six Grammy awards and entry to the Songwriters Hall of Fame might have never been possible without being dropped by Island Def Jam.
6. Stephen King
As an adolescent writer, King nailed his rejection letters to a wall in his room, and by the time he was 14, the nail couldn't support the weight of all the rejection slips. This tone of failure and rejection persisted well into his adult years, as his passion for writing resulted in economic hardship and many more rejection letters before striking gold with his story, Carrie.
These powerhouse entrepreneurs and artists are reminders that some of the greatest success stories throughout history have started with failure. Our failures don't have to define us, and by changing our perspective about failure to one that embraces it as a facilitator of later success, we can alleviate the stigma of failing and cultivate inspiration from it.