Just a few weeks ago my daughter and I were stranded in a hotel room during an unexpected ice storm. With no place to go, we sat together and rewatched The Last Word. In the movie, a young woman hates her job but is too afraid to make a change. The older main character, who is dying, advises her to “fail spectacularly”:
“You don’t make mistakes. Mistakes make you. They make you smarter. They make you stronger. And more self-reliant. Fall on your face. Fail spectacularly. Because when you fail, you learn. When you fail, you live.”
As I sat next to my daughter, the thought of telling her to “fail spectacularly” seemed extreme. I want her to be happy. I want to protect her. But do I really want her to fail in a big way?
Once I was home again, however, I sat at my desk and saw the sign I had posted for myself when I started my business some years ago. It reads “One more magnificent failure…” and it reminded me that maybe I do want her to “fail spectacularly.”
Associating “magnificent” or “spectacular” with “failing” may feel like a contradiction, but it’s not. Just as my sign’s purpose is to give me the courage to try new things, I don’t want fear to stop my daughter from trying and losing the opportunity to learn from her failures. I want her to understand that her worth is not tied to outcomes or results, but rather what she will learn from the experience of taking risks and allowing herself to be open and vulnerable. Only then will she (and I) truly learn and grow as an individual.
The movie and the sign were good reminders to me that I need to teach my children to accept failure as an essential part of life. I’m reminded of this inspiring quote from US business leader, the late Thomas J. Watson:
“Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really: Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, so go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that’s where you will find success.”
Once we stop being afraid of failure, we become free to try and be the best people we can be. I, therefore, wish you the courage to fail spectacularly and learn from your magnificent failings.
PS. If you are in Toronto, please read on about the upcoming event.