3 Important Lessons You Can Learn From Failure
Several years ago, I started blogging with a few very basic goals in mind:
- Work on my creativity
- Improve my writing
- Explore and specify my thoughts.
About a month later, I had a smattering of posts and hardly any following at all. I hadn’t posted consistently, I hadn’t kept to the standards that I wanted to keep to, and I wasn’t getting the traffic that I wanted.
After conceding failure on that blog, I gave up. I spent a lot of time beating myself up for my inability to be consistent. I’d always been told I was a good writer, an intelligent person, and I thought that not succeeding initially meant that I would never succeed.
But with every failure comes a hidden gem, some knowledge that you can take away to inform your future. It was a test run - everything that doesn't end with success is a test run and if you don't take something away from it and learn, you've wasted a valuable opportunity to improve as a human being. The following are some of the most important things that I think I learned from my first attempt at blogging.
1. Inspiration isn't everything.
It can seem so easy in the beginning, when you're inspired and full of zeal and enthusiasm for an awesome new project. The ideas flow in joyful streams and you just know, you just know that you'll always have access to them and the motivation to keep going will always be there. But the truth is, with every project you're going to have to put in the work eventually.
I'm the type of guy who avoids work. It turns out I can be pretty lazy, and pretty devious when it comes to getting away from work - I once spent 5 hours cleaning my entire apartment because I didn't want to write a term paper in college. Intense, right?
I'm trying to change my relationship with work, but that will take time. Until then, it's important for me to realize and come to terms with the fact that no matter how inspired I am for a project, at some point it will become work that I may not feel like doing, and I need strong ways to motivate myself.
2. Burnout is real.
It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new project and immediately try to do too much too soon. Here's a story:
I once launched a website with the idea of creating a vegan food blog. I was going to post recipes, tips and tricks, and thoughts on the vegan lifestyle. I dove in immediately - I bought hosting, I bought a domain, I dumped money into a Wordpress theme.
I didn't know anything about websites, so I spent hours upon hours reading up on CSS and HTML coding and how hosting works and how to modify every tiny thing in a website.
I burnt myself out writing up 5 long recipe posts in two days, leaving my kitchen a mess. I played with the idea of taking a food photography class and buying a fancy camera. I'm grateful every day that I didn't go that far, because I definitely could not have afforded a nice camera.
I did all this, and my site did okay for a niche website that had just started. But in that week or two at the beginning I burnt out all of the energy I had for the project and the frustrations that I faced with all of the different things that I was diving headfirst into made it so that I resented the project, and I gave up.
I left the site to run for a few months but couldn't bring myself to post anything. Just last month, I finally cut the cord and stopped paying for the domain and hosting.
This all goes to show you that when you're inspired it is incredibly dangerous to immediately go all in on an idea. Yes, be excited. Work hard. But it's not enjoyable or sustainable to work oneself to death at the start of an idea.
3. It's okay to be disappointed.
When things don't go as planned, it's perfectly reasonable to be unhappy about it. After all, you just put a lot of time, effort, and emotional energy into something for it to not work out. It can be especially disappointing when you draw the causes for failure back to yourself.
It could be that you see failure as a sign that you should give up, that something isn't meant to happen or that you're incapable of it. That's where the negative feeling start to be unhealthy.
Just because you fail once, or fail twice, or however many times doesn't mean that you're not meant to do something. It means that you didn't prepare properly or approach the project with the respect that it deserves.
Say you want to climb a tree. You see all the beautiful branches and fruit far above your head, so you sprint at the trunk full bore and whack your head. That approach didn't work. So now you have to look at your options; you still want to get to the top of the tree. This time you could try with a length of rope to hoist yourself up, or with careful examination of the lower tree branches you could find a route from the ground.
It's all about changing your tactics and doing what's going to be the best for you to keep going towards your goals.
Keep your head up.
So if you’ve failed at something recently, anything, remember that you can learn from that and when you try again, you’ll be stronger and better for it.
Even though I had decided that I was a failure, an absolute moron, and had no future as a wordsmith, I kept getting the itch to come back to writing. And I did. Now, I’ve been writing for quite a while and while consistency is still something that I’m working hard on solidifying, I feel a lot better about myself – and the same thing can happen to you.