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Failure a stepping stone to success
Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts
THE world around us relentlessly celebrates success and deplores failure. Failure is seen as necessarily bad and is associated with all sorts of negative definitions. Under this convenient and superficial judgement, we overlook how failure is essential for genuine success. People may heedlessly promote narratives around success, but it is important to realise that success seldom provides a space to reflect, learn and grow. Failure, on the other hand, I can undoubtedly claim, holds enormous potential for learning, wisdom and resurgence, and can serve not only as an opportunity for reorientation but also, as a precondition for remarkable success.
In the Indian context, that some of us may be familiar with, particularly, failure is barely embraced. From a very young age, people are incessantly interrogated about grades, marks and accomplishments and it continues well into adulthood. Debacles lead to people being branded as unsuccessful and being relegated to the margins. Consequently, the fear of failure runs amok, and curbs innovation, experimenting and creativity. Such a culture around failure inevitably leads to curbing of individual potential and self-defeatism. Therefore, a cultural renegotiation is necessary that enables us to look at how failure can be dealt with in emancipatory and empowering ways.
To start thinking afresh, we must dismantle the binary that irrevocably declares success as good and failure as bad. Success is obviously a goal sought most commonly, but consistent success leads to complacency, arrogance and a lack of self-reflection. Success also is incredibly difficult to sustain and thus, a glamour-stricken perspective on life, while enjoying success, is inevitably myopic. Failure, despite how devastating it might be, holds dual possibilities - either, we can let failure, as a negative occurrence stagnate us, or, we can treat it as an opportunity to reinvent and a stepping stone to astounding destinations. It is thus, important to scrub negative connotations off failure and look at it with renewed optimism.
A 2019 Forbes article reports how in a study conducted by Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, that tracked works by scientists, researchers who failed to secure a research grant immediately (the failure group) were 6.1 per cent more likely to publish high-impact papers than the ones who did (the success group). This simple finding highlights how our conventional understanding of failure happens to be painfully superficial. Failure is not an absolute condition, or the end of the world, and has silver linings which can be utilized for resounding success.
A quote by Winston Churchill beautifully captures the nuances success and failure is marked by:
"Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts."
This is starkly true and worth considering in times where success is made into a compulsory marker of individual and social worth. Cursory looks at the biographies of illustrious politicians, actors, scholars and several important figures are enough to reveal how their success stories were often preceded by long periods of struggle and strings of setbacks.
However, it is perseverance and learning which made, and in any context, makes all the difference. The question to ponder in this regard is how to make the most of a circumstance of failure and ensure a smooth movement to success.
The keywords here are learning and resilience. I firmly believe that no textbook can teach you what failure can teach you. From my experience, examining the question from a standpoint of entrepreneurship, I can assert that in entrepreneurial ecosystems, places that lead, such as Silicon Valley "celebrate failure". Rocketspace reports how Jeff Bezos, founder-CEO of Amazon, like many startup founders, made massive mistakes in the beginning, such as over-estimating demand for toys on Christmas, which led to Amazon giving away 50 million toys due to space constraints. However, despite such setbacks, Amazon triumphed and its success story is unknown to none. Founders of LinkedIn and Canva, mentioned in the same article, undertook similar journeys, but initial failures did not bog them down.
Thus, failure is not bad but not learning from failure is. On a similar note, failure must be responded to with resilience, instead of despondence. It is taking failure in your stride and not giving up that determines how rewarding the future will be. To quote Robert T Kiyosaki in this context,
"Winners are not afraid of losing. But losers are. Failure is part of the process of success. People who avoid failure also avoid success."
Failure is essential to know what did not work. Therefore, the only sure-shot way to ensure a worthy success is to objectively look at a failed endeavour and take away knowledge which can fashion a success story out of it. There are no shortcuts or easy journeys to great accomplishment, and failures have to be seen as bristling with opportunity and potential for success rather than the opposite of it. We truly learn when failure pushes us to difficult but necessary realizations, and thus we cannot truly succeed if we have not failed.
Failure and success, thus, should not be looked at as mutually exclusive, as failure provides ample scope for fortitude and creating success in its wake. What we need is stoicism towards life, which offers both failures and successes. While we must remain humble and rooted when success comes to us, failures should be opportunities for introspection and learning.
It is a key to allow you the space to both succeed and to fail and not look at either as ends of the world. The point of human endeavour is to not limit our lives due to events but to keep on marching ahead, taking risks and leaving footprints behind.
Failure is part of this human trajectory, and must be embraced as a stairway that leads to remarkable possibilities and achievements.
(The author is founder, Upsurge Global, and Senior Advisor, Telangana State Innovation Cell)