“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan
We live in a competitive society that has big winners and big losers. Educators, motivation experts, life coaches, sport psychologists and other mentors mainly teach us how to approach success, how to be winners. Few teach us a much more valuable lesson – how to cope with failure.
The Benefits of Failure
People who fail repeatedly develop persistence in the face of difficulties. President Harry Truman was perceived as a flop during his own life but stuck to his guns when it really mattered, such as firing the popular, but insubordinate, General MacArthur. Thomas Edison is remembered for the incandescent light bulb among many other key inventions in the Age of Electricity. He is said to have failed with a thousand different filaments before hitting on a material that worked.
With success, people keep on doing the same thing. When they fail, they are forced to adapt and change. That is not just a human characteristic but constitutes a basic feature of how the mammalian brain works.
If a lab rat no longer gets rewarded for pressing a lever that had yielded food pellets before, it gets visibly upset. As its frantic efforts fail, it resorts to all manner of strange, or novel, reactions from grooming itself to biting the lever, or leaping into the air. It is learning that the world has changed and its brain is getting rewired, so to speak.
When one combines emotionalism with originality, that is fairly close to what most people think of as artistic creativity. Artists are not necessarily frustrated people but tend to be dissatisfied with what they have accomplished previously and try to do something better, or something new.
The magical power of failure is not restricted to the arts, or to political leadership. It applies to all fields of human endeavor, including the crass activity of financial money grubbing. Anyone who bought Apple stock over most of the past decade made wads of money but learned nothing. Those who bought at the peak and lost 40 percent of their stake are still scratching their heads. Like the rat in the experiment, they are learning something.
Never underestimate the magical properties of failure. It rewires the brain and gets the creative juices flowing.
(The above excerpt from The Sweet Smell Of Failure by Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., originally appeared on psychologytoday.com October 5, 2010. To view it in its entirety please click on the link below.)