On Embracing Failure

Once you’ve embraced failure, you no longer fear it.

I am not sure where I heard this adage but it’s stuck with me for quite some time. However, it didn’t quite resonate with me until I experienced a number of my own failures.  If you feel like you are bombarded by incessant platitudes about failure on Twitter & Facebook, you’re not alone. When things are going good most people forget all of the struggle and toil that was required to get where they are.  It takes deep introspection and a grounded spirit to truly embrace your failures — and learn from them.

As I mentioned, I am no stranger to failure myself. I flunked out of undergrad before going back and completing my degree. Then I flunked out of law school after my second year due to a lack of passion for the subject matter and profession.  I’ve also shuffled through a number of jobs before I finally found a career that I love and find meaningful. Learning through failure has allowed me to embrace what’s important and has propelled me to achieve a great deal of freedom professionally.

Here are some things I’ve learned through dealing with my own failures:

Failure Can Build A Fearless Mindset

As the saying goes: when you have nothing, you have nothing to lose. OK, OK that may be a little melodramatic but the point still stands. When you have your back against the wall you are willing to be less risk averse. When I dropped out of law school I was neck high in student debt and had no idea what I was going to do.  All I knew was I needed to make some moves. Luckily an opportunity presented itself in Seattle. At the time moving from Los Angeles to Seattle was the equivalent of blasting off to a colony on the moon for me. I had never lived that far away from home. However, I knew I had to make the move to (a) pay off my student debt, and (b) do something productive with my life. In retrospect it was the best decision I ever made in my life.

Having a fearless mindset means just that — overcoming your reservations and fears so that you can live up to your potential. A historical figure that personifies this idea of the “fearless mindset” is Albert Einstein. From an early age he embraced failure and realized that personal freedom (the ability to think and act in accordance to one’s virtue) was the ultimate aim of a life well lived. When Einstein came to the U.S. to teach at Princeton he was asked if he needed anything. His humble reply:  “a desk, a pen, a pad of paper, and a large wastebasket for all my mistakes.”


It Helps You Grow

This may sound counter intuitive but failure can help you grow. Think of all of the major mistakes and shortcomings that you’ve encountered in your life. Chances are you have learned many valuable lessons from those experiences. When failure occurs it has a way of attaching itself to your psyche in a profound way that is usually manifested in feelings of insecurity and fear. However, as time goes on those memories fade and the fear of failure becomes less visceral. When you confront your failure and speak honestly about it you’re able to learn valuable lessons… enter—> Wisdom

Here are some ways to confront failures head on:

  • Accept Them : Admit your shortcomings and don’t make excuses for yourself.  This is the surest way to do better next time.
  • Learn From Them : Do everything you can to ensure you don’t make the mistake again. You can only grow through careful introspection and determination to do better.
  • Forgive Yourself : Don’t be so hard on yourself. Everyone makes mistakes.
  • Move on : Don’t chase your losses. Think of a poker player that keeps going deeper into the hole in an attempt to erase loss and get their money back. It makes no sense.


It Humbles You

Before moving back to Los Angeles from Seattle I thought I was on top of the world. I had a great job and lived in a great booming city. I was quickly paying off my student debt and felt I was unstoppable — there was a lingering problem though: I was working 80 hours a week balancing a full time job and starting an agency. Eventually, I knew I had to choose one career path over the other. The very thought of having to do so was deemed a failure in my eyes because I wanted to do it all.

Ultimately, I chose the agency route because it afforded me a lot more freedom. I packed my bags in Seattle and moved back to Los Angeles with 3 clients to my name and a significantly diminished income. It was a humbling experience for a number of reasons: I had to move back in with my parents for 6 months, I had to be extremely frugal & industrious and I had to work my way back to where I wanted to be. That experience taught me many valuable lessons:

  • Always plan for a rainy day
  • Change is inevitable; and
  • Always be thankful for what you have

Failure Can Inspire You

If you know me well enough, you know I am a huuge basketball nerd. While Kobe Bryant reigns supreme on my list of greatness, Michael Jordan doesn’t trail too far behind. There are a number of reasons I admire MJ. Surprisingly his play ranks lower on the totem pole for me. I admire Jordan because of his tenacity and competitive spirit. Not many people know how many times Jordan failed before he ultimately won his first NBA championship. Jordan was relentless in his pursuit of his first championship. The individual accolades like scoring titles, MVPs and all-star games meant very little to Jordan.


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Jordan’s failures centered around his inability to trust his teammates late in games. It’s an issue that prevented his team (the Chicago Bulls) from defeating the 2 time defending champ Detroit Pistons in the playoffs of 1988 and 1989. During the 1990 season Jordan came to camp inspired to do whatever it took to win. That season Jordan learned to trust his teammates, his coach and ultimately himself late in games — and the Bulls went on to win the championship.

An often overlooked element of Jordan’s winning ways was the influence his coach Phil Jackson had on him. The Zen Master, as Phil Jackson is called, ensured that all of his players meditated weekly and had a mindful approach to the game of basketball. What ultimately propelled Jordan to the next level was his ability to center himself and trust others. Letting go of control is often all it takes to get to the next level. By pinpointing and accepting all of his shortcomings, Jordan was able to determine what it takes to win.


By embracing our failures and sharing them with others we give them less power over us. Think of every awe inspiring story you’ve ever read or heard — a great deal of the narrative is woven around adversity and overcoming failure. Next time things go wrong take a step back and think of the big picture… things always have a way of working themselves out.

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