I am a failure. I failed at everything I’ve ever done in life. Until I succeeded.
The first time I tried to ride a bike without training wheels I crashed into a car. Every time I drove by that car growing up, I remembered the dent I put in it. When I tried riding a bike 30 years later...I crashed into a car. So, maybe not the best example. But who knows what will happen the next time I try? (Let’s not kid ourselves, I should stay away from bikes.)
More seriously, do we expect babies to know how to roll over, crawl, walk, immediately? Do we criticize them when they fall? Do we make fun of children’s attempts at tying their shoes, or their inability to read, their mispronunciations, their artwork? No, because we know it’s all a part of the process - that in order to learn a new skill we have to try over and over, and FAIL at it in order to learn how to do it. We don’t call children failures.
So when does it become unacceptable to fail? When do we start beating ourselves, and each other up, for not succeeding, immediately, at everything we attempt?
I’ve been an adjunct professor at a local university for about 8 semesters. I love it...now, and I believe I’m good at it...now. That wasn’t the case the first or even first few times I taught the course.
College kids are scary. Terrifying. They’re on their phones, giving you unforgiving stares, and refuse to participate in class. I literally said ‘Bueller, Bueller’ when no one responded to a question...but they’re too young to get the joke. After the first class, I wanted to quit. I don’t know if I taught them much the first semester. I was too concerned with whether they liked me, what they thought about me, whether I was saying something stupid.
I faced two questions I ponder over and over:
Why am I so afraid of failing? And why do I worry so much what other people think?
I’ve been asked to teach every semester since, and each time I gain more confidence. The group of “kids” matters of course, but I’ve also figured out how I want to present the material, and I’ve stopped caring (as much) about what they think. One of the highlights of my life was walking down the hall behind one of my current students.
“Hi,” he said to a girl who’d been in my class the previous semester.
“Are you in Professor Schwartz’s class?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he replied.
“She’s the shit.”
Life. Made. The college kids like me.
If I’d given up because I was afraid to fail, I would never have had that moment. My failure to connect the first semester gave me tools to figure out what to do differently, and so my failure is part of my success. My failure is my success.
Fear of failure kept me from doing a lot of things for a long time. I believed I couldn’t get help for my addiction because that meant admitting I needed help. Needing help meant I had failed. But failing at outpatient rehab taught me not to waste my chance to get healthy when I finally went to inpatient treatment. (Another story).
Failing at treatment was part of my success with sobriety. My failure is my success.
I was afraid to start my own business. I was afraid people wouldn’t like us or what we offered. My fear of putting myself out there could have kept me from pursuing my dreams. I trusted, however, that even if we failed, we would be ok.
Life doesn’t just abruptly end when you “fail.” The world doesn’t implode when you fall off a bike. You pick yourself back up and get on again (or in my case figure out other modes of transportation). You will figure out a way onto something else — another attempt, perhaps another failure, perhaps your greatest success. You won’t know until you try. And if you keep trying, you will be ok. Your failures are part of your successes. Your failure is a success.
Have you avoided taking a risk — large or small — because you’re afraid of failing or what people will think of you if you do? Have you perhaps tried something you know you’ll fail at? Or have you tried something once and then given up? Can you switch it up to see your inabilities as opportunities?
We will all fail. We will all have stories of failure. Whenever anything goes wrong, or doesn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, I just tell myself: ‘it’s all going in the book.’
By Laura Rose Schwartz
Laura Rose is a co-owner and founder of Vikriya Lab — a yoga, Pilates, and barre studio — and an instructor with over 5000 hours of teaching experience. Affectionately known as "Body by Laura," her classes are designed to be different. An attorney in her previous life, Laura is passionate about how yoga has transformed her life and sharing tools with others to transform their own. Follow her on instagram @lauraroseyoga and @vikriyalab.