Failure - a Tool of Growth
by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie
One of the things that we fear most is failure. The possibility of failing is terrifying to the point that we abandon many important activities to avoid failure. We are frightened of humiliation, disappointment, letting ourselves or others down and worst of all, ruining our reputation.
But the reality is that not everything we do ends in success. The Divine design of creation includes failure as part of human development and growth. With the proper perspective, failure is not so frightening and can even become a catalyst for greater progress and improvement.
Here are five ideas to consider:
- Definition of success - In today's world, success is defined by outcome as opposed to effort. If you have invested tremendous effort but not achieved a visible, measurable dramatic outcome you are deemed a failure, not a success. The Jewish definition of success is very different. It is not defined by any outcome but rather by effort, hard work and internal improvement and progress. Our tradition states clearly that reward for Torah study is not for those who cover the most material, but rather for those who apply themselves with sweat and toil. Not producing the end result does not always mean that we have failed in our mission. The solid attempt and the effort is itself our success.
- Failure does not make us bad people - At the very foundation of every person there exists a Divine spark of infinite goodness and purity, which is totally independent of one's accomplishments and achievements. When we are unsuccessful in a particular project, our essential goodness still remains intact.
- Failure is learning opportunity - I once heard that in the early days of IBM there was a computer programmer who pushed the wrong button and cost the company a million dollars. When he was summoned to the board room he was certain that his career had come to an end. In front of the top executives he had to explain what had happened and what could have been done to avoid this mistake. When he finished he was sent back to continue his work, his job intact. In response to his look of surprise one of the top executives commented: "We just spent a million dollars training you, we can't fire you now". Failure is a unique opportunity to learn how to be stronger in the future.
- Failure does not negate previous achievement - Someone who walks for an hour and slips over two kilometres from his destination is still closer to his goal than before. We cannot discount our accomplishments to date. Failure is only a temporary learning experience. We recover, get up and move on.
- Make it a catalyst for real growth - Constant success and happiness can also result in limited growth. We become comfortable with ourselves and are unable to break out of our own little world, and go beyond our own limitations. Sometimes failure can have the effect of breaking the shell of our comfort zone to allow us to take a giant leap into something new. We are forced to re-think our strategies and our goals. It becomes an amazing opportunity to change direction. A seed planted in the ground must disintegrate before it can become a blossoming tree. Sometimes our routine must come to an abrupt end, giving us the opportunity to reach new heights.
So don't be afraid of failing. If it happens, welcome it and use it to reach a new level of self development.