When success turns sour, the sense of inadequacy can shake a man’s bones, but do not fear failure. There’s no greater life lesson than a losing hand.
I thought success would never cease to rise. I thought things could only get from great to even greater. I had reached a peak and was about to leap onto an even greater one when I slipped and fell and I fell hard.
What would follow would be undoubtedly, the worst year of my life. A year of insomnia, panics, cold sweats, financial distress, and turmoil. A year to contemplate on what went wrong, and a year to retrospect, introspect and do everything else in between in solitude. People around me kept telling me to hang in there and be positive and everything would turn out right, and I hung in there, and I stayed positive, and I really believed everything would be alright, until it didn’t, and I would be left feeling nothing but gut-wrenching disappointment. I tried really hard to make things happen; to get out of the situation; to turn the tides, but the harder I struggled, the deeper I would get sucked into nothingness. That’s what fighting failure feels like. It feels like it might just be beyond you. It turns your stomach inside out.
Here is how failure finds you. First there is a creeping sense of dread and then suddenly, the sky falls down. “How did you go bankrupt?” asks a character in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. “Two ways,” comes the reply. “Gradually, then suddenly.”
That is how failure hits you. Gradually. Then Suddenly. Slowly, almost imperceptibly at first; the increasing struggles, the nagging sense that nothing is going the way it should, and then the terrible realisation that the world can get along very well without you; and finally disaster. The career is in the ditch, the relationship is in ruins and your health is shot. And there was no great shining moment for me when I felt myself leaving failure behind. I decided to try and embrace failure and use this time, to grow… to learn. I have tried to turn the corner and look beyond failure. Things change with time.
Every heroic myth has failure built into the narrative. We think of Ali, with his jaw broken in the first fight against Joe Frazier, Sinatra in the dumps with no recording contract, Christ on the cross in his moment of doubt and pain. But we all know how the stories end; Ali will meet Frazier again in Manila, Sinatra has Capitol records and From Here To Eternity just round the corner, and on the third day the stone will roll back, and eternal life awaits.
Great men overcome failure and it makes them greater than ever, but when you face rejection and heartbreak, you don’t feel like Ali, Sinatra or Christ. You feel more like Mr. Bean. They say failure isn’t fatal but it doesn’t feel that way when you are in the middle of it. Failure feels like it will kill you. Failure is the dirty bomb in the life of humans, as undeniable as a serious illness, a condition it closely resembles and manifests itself in.
Looking on the bright side, my failure didn’t kill me. I got lucky. Although what was happening to me was personally devastating, and not what I would have wanted, some people might even consider it a measly, modest success. One man’s abject failure is another man’s happiness. Failure is relative.
Hemingway believed any story followed to the very end would be a story of failure, and perhaps, that is how we need to think of it. Failure, be it financial, professional or personal is no cruel act of God, but an inevitable fluctuation in life’s fortunes. You will run out of money, time and luck, you will get sick and you will have your heart pulped by your one true love. Failure in one shape or another will get you, because it gets all of us sooner or later.
But failure hardens you. This is a good thing. You get sacked and you end up doing what you always wanted. You get your heart broken and you learn not to give it away too easily. You get sick and you realise you are taking your flesh and blood for granted.
The big problem with failure is that it is time consuming. When you are worried about money, your mind has no room for anything else. When your heart hurts from loneliness and your eyes sting, it’s hard to see the stars. But failure is the best education that money can’t buy. It will ultimately do you more good than all those years of schooling.
Perhaps real and lasting success is impossible without the experience of real, grinding failure – The kind where people wonder what ever happened to you, and so do you. It’s like a double first from Oxford.
Surviving failure makes you a man. It makes you run twice as fast as the competition, It makes you twice as hungry, it makes you twice as hard. Once you have had your nose rubbed in the dirt – the competition has no chance. The safe flight plans of your rival’s life – from school to university to office – are no match for what you have endured.
When it is happening to you, failure feels like a beating. It literally feels like you are at the sharp end of a kicking and anyone who has ever taken a good beating will tell you this… It’s not the pain that hurts. It’s the humiliation. Failure is like that. You taste it.
But it puts some steel in your spine. It leaves a chip of ice in your heart. It makes you grow up. You always remember what failure felt like. And you’ll remember it everyday of your great life. How dumb was I when failure came looking for me? I was shocked! When I lost everything I had, I was stunned any of this could possibly happen to me. I remember asking my mother “How could this happen?” as though that meant I truly believed nothing bad could ever happen to me. That’s why it took me a long year and one more to climb back out. I didn’t see failure coming. And honestly, I thought it never would.
Don’t be like me. Bounce back faster. The truth is it’s a waste of time. Time that is scarce. Expect failure to hit you hard somewhere along the line. But I promise you this – If you lose your job then you will find a better job. If you lose the girl then you will find a better girl. And if you lose your health then you might learn to stop putting rubbish into your system.
Embrace failure. Make it your greatest ally. Because at the very moment they all think you are finished, your success is assured.