Why Everybody Needs a Big Fat Failure - Feature
6 Nov 2017

Why Everybody Needs to Experience a Big Fat Failure in Life

Did you know that it took Thomas Edison 1,000 tries before he successfully created the light bulb?

Some of the greatest and most important inventions known to mankind can be attributed to simple accidents and even big mistakes made by the world’s most intelligent people. Yet, we continue to belittle the one thing that made it all possible  — failure.

In this article, we explore why failure will change your life for the better.

#1. Failure is a catalyst for change

Why Everybody Needs a Big Fat Failure - 1 Failure is a catalyst for change
A failed endeavour is a good opportunity for you to identify what isn’t working, and pinpoint specific skills, ideas and life lessons that you can learn from the experience. It can also prompt you to reevaluate your approach to your problems to see how you can improve if you are confronted with the same difficulties in the future. 

For example, failing your physics exam isn’t your teacher’s way of branding you a loser. It only means you have yet to grasp the topics you are taught.

Sometimes, it takes a bad result to act as an effective wake-up call to force you to reconsider your study strategy or your approach to answering exam questions in order to improve accordingly.

#2. Failure, the original Discovery Channel

Why Everybody Needs a Big Fat Failure - 2 Failure, the original Discovery Channel
Ruth Wakefield was baking cookies at her restaurant when she ran out of baker’s chocolate and decided to substitute it with a bar of semi-sweet chocolate.

Alas, the chocolate didn’t mix into the batter like she expected, but the kitchen disaster resulted in a delicious surprise we now know as the chocolate chip cookie!

In other words, although failure often seems like bad luck, it may lead us to discover something new and unexpected if viewed in a positive light.

Author’s Note: Failing additional mathematics throughout Form 4 and struggling with my science subjects throughout Form 5 helped me realise I was not science-oriented at all. I learned that I was far more arts-inclined through my love for history and literature, and later found my calling in law school.

#3. It eradicates the post-success syndrome

Why Everybody Needs a Big Fat Failure - 3 It eradicates the post-success syndrome
We often view failures as stumbling blocks, but your greatest achievements can also become impediments to success.

Once we’ve experienced success, we may be hesitant to pursue something else because there is more to lose if we fail this time. Embracing the risk of failure gives us a freedom to keep trying until we succeed.

Take for instance Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love. After the phenomenal success of her first book, she was apprehensive about writing her second book as she knew it wouldn’t match her earlier success. She eventually did and it flopped as she feared, but it also gave her renewed courage to continue pursuing her passion for writing.

So, imagine loving chocolate ice cream so much that you refuse to try any other flavours. Not only does this approach make life less exciting, you also lose out on the chance to discover something else you might enjoy.

#4. Failure trains you to build your armour

Why Everybody Needs a Big Fat Failure - 4 Failure trains you to build your armour
study conducted on a troop of monkeys showed that primates who made mistakes in a test they later mastered, still performed worse than monkeys who made no mistakes from the start at all.

This shows that by default, failure plays a great influence on your brain, so much so that it could throw you into a never-ending cycle of failure.

To develop some resistance against failure, stop dwelling on your mistakes as this can cause anxiety and impair your future pursuits for success. Instead, acknowledge your weaknesses and identify how you can improve on them. Next, recognise your strengths to help you build confidence and move on from your missteps.

By consciously encouraging your brain to learn from failure than it would by default, you will be building an armour to cope with the disappointment from failure, thus making you a stronger, more resilient person.

#5. It makes you smarter

Why Everybody Needs a Big Fat Failure - 5 It makes you smarter
You may be under the impression that human beings are primed for success, but science shows that the human brain is in fact optimised for failure.

According to this study, students who employed a learning method known as productive failure performed significantly better than students who did not.

Two groups of students were given a set of math problems to solve. The first group was taught how to solve the problems and given time to practise while the second was left to solve the problem on their own first without any direction.

Surprisingly, the study revealed that the second group developed a significantly greater conceptual understanding of the problem when they were given the freedom to try and fail.

This means that not only is failure an inevitable part of our education, but it can be an effective method of learning.

#6. Professor Failure is your best teacher

Why Everybody Needs a Big Fat Failure - 6 Professor Failure is your best teacher
Experiencing our own failures does not only teach us new things about ourselves, but it also teaches us to empathise with others who may be in a similar position.

Take it from this Princeton University professor who published his “CV of Failures” on social media, highlighting various academic positions, fellowships, awards and scholarships he failed to obtain in his lifetime.

The unorthodox CV was written to give struggling students the perspective that failure is only a stepping stone to success, and it’s something that everyone experiences.

So the next time you experience your own epic failure, don’t be shy to lend a helping hand to a friend by sharing your own failures with them. Research suggests that this can help others deal with their own setbacks too.

Now, we aren’t saying that you should aspire to fail. However, recognise that failure is not only inevitable but a necessary part of your life’s journey. In the words of Arianna Huffington, co-founder of media powerhouse The Huffington Post:

I strongly believe that we are not put on this Earth just to accumulate victories… and avoid failures; but rather to be whittled and sandpapered down until what’s left is who we truly are. — Arianna Huffington

Recently suffered a disappointment? Here are 5 ways to transform painful failures into a soaring success.

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