I constantly hear about how people are “scared to fail” and how “failure hurts.” When I hear this from success coaches or self-improvement types, my first thought is that they really don’t understand people, and they really don’t understand what true failure is.
First off, failing does not involve trying for something with all your soul and not succeeding. That’s actually called defeat. A defeat is different from failure because there’s a little known benefit to defeat: lessons learned.
My greatest defeat to date was losing my ownership of Metroflex Gym, Long Beach. I am going to write a blog next week on the details of that episode of my life, but to sum it up here: I worked my ass off for 15 plus hours a day to build that gym into one of the most famous gyms in the United States.
I cleaned toilets, wiped sweat, fixed equipment, sold memberships, trained clients, handled the books, wrote blogs, signed deals with magazines to house their shoots there, recruited well-known trainers, coached celebrity athletes, and all while earning $300 to $500 a month in one of the most expensive areas to live in the United States. The gym was earning money, but it had a massive overhead, and all the money had to go back into the gym. I had no cash reserves, and no time to earn a side income.
There were weeks at a time where I didn’t have anything more than peanut butter sandwiches and protein powder samples to eat. My situation got so bad that I had to give my shares to my business partner, and I ended up living out of my car for a bit before some friends took me in.
Anyone looking at this story would think that this was the worse thing that ever happened to me. Hell no, this was the single greatest thing that ever happened to me in my life.
In those three years I learned how to build a business from the ground up, how to network, how to leverage social media, how to build a web site, how to sell, and how to manage people. I also learned that I could survive defeat and come out stronger because of the lessons it taught me. Several months after that I used everything I learned at Metroflex to build my online training business, which turned out to be successful. Then, I used money I earned from that business to open up Warrior Soul Apparel, which is now my life’s passion.
I got more out of this “defeat” than any other previous “success” I’d had in the civilian world like my college degree or my bodybuilding and powerlifting trophies. I wouldn’t trade that experience in for the world.
Defeat is a painful process, and it’s way more scary than failure. I’ll get into why in a second, but what you have to understand about defeat is that in every defeat there is a reward. That reward is experience and lessons you can carry with you for the rest of your life that you would not get unless you took the chance.
Teddy Roosevelt delivered what is probably the most accurate view of defeat versus failure in his famous “In the Arena” speech,
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat
The biggest mindset difference between those who fail and those who succeed is that they know that defeat is temporary and often helpful, while failure is both cancerous and permanent.
What Failure Looks Like and Feels Like
Most people are not scared of failure. They’re drawn to failure like a moth to a light bulb.
People assume that failure is an uncomfortable thing that looms over them like the grim reaper. No, failure doesn’t look like a creepy skeleton in a robe and hood and success doesn’t look like a pool filled with hot girls in bikinis.
Failure looks like the most seductive thing you’ve ever seen. It’s like that perfect house that you want to live in for the rest of your life. It beckons you saying, “come here. I’ll make you comfortable. You’ll be safe here.”
Failure is so pervasive that it’s able to shape shift like an evil spirit. For some, it takes the form of a couch and a TV set with an awesome video game console. For other’s it’s the snooze button on an alarm clock. It can look like a bar filled with women where you know you’ll spend all your money rather than using it for investments., or it can look like a car that you’re gonna buy even though you can’t afford it. For myself at different times, it looked like a bottle of whiskey, a handful of pills, and a pack of cigarettes.
The worse part about failure is this: it’s a place that you don’t want to leave because it’s so comfortable – occupying you with useless activities that don’t help you or that actively hurt you to draw you away from the things you really want to do in your life. It keeps you from taking chances, and it tells you that “that’s too scary” or “that will be too hard for you.”
Failure never exerts the energy to attack us, and it doesn’t surprise us until the very end of our lives when we feel regret for the things we did not do. It calls to us in the sweetest voice we ever heard, and we go willingly into it’s clutches where it waits to smother us like a deranged mother would kill her sleeping baby.
So stop saying that you’re afraid of failure. The fact is that you’re attracted to it, just like I am and just like every human being on Earth. That’s because avoiding failure means pain, and most human beings don’t know how to deal with pain. Those who do, however, are the ones who will succeed beyond their wildest expectations.
Success is Scary because it’s Painful
While failure is attractive, success, on the other hand, is scary as hell. It’s not scary because we’re afraid of feeling good or because we don’t think we deserve to accomplish anything. It’s scary because the road to success is filled with pain.
This is not the kind of short-term pain that we’re used to, like the feeling of a 20 mile hump with a 120 lb load. It’s also not like the feeling of getting through boot camp, infantry school, or anything else the military could throw at us – even that is short-term compared to the road to success.
The reason is this: on the road to success, you rarely know when the pain will stop, and you don’t know if you’re any closer to success unless you “turn the next corner.” All you can do to get to success is to keep trying to move forward with your best effort.
Yet, moving forward is tricky because many times you don’t know if the steps you are taking are moving you forward or taking you back to where you started.
This is why it is important to read, and important to seek out mentors. Reading allows you to get guidance from those who have been where you are and to avoid the pitfalls that they faced, while mentors provide you with real life individuals who can help to point you in the right direction when you get lost.
The road to success is painful, and because of this, most people avoid it altogether and retreat to comfort, stagnation, and the failure of never knowing what could have been if they put the effort in and stepped into the arena.
What Should You Do?
If you want to avoid failure, and if you’ve read this far, you probably do – the first step is to know yourself. We focus so much on our deepest ambitions, but we rarely focus on the reasons why we don’t pursue them.
You should list these reasons out, and when excuses pop up like: “I don’t have time” or “I don’t have money” write those down and make sure there’s space next to those statements. Then, in that blank space write “because . . . ” Rather than putting something like “because I have a family” or “because I have a job,” think about your leisure spending and how you spend your free time.
Did you need to make all the purchases you made last month, or are there some things on there you could have done without? Would you trade in your Jordans or your new TV set for a step toward success? If the answer is no, then just keep doing what you’re doing. If it is yes, then it’s time to reconsider your priorities.
Similarly, would you trade in the three to four hours you spend a week watching your favorite shows for extra time to work on your dreams? Again, if the answer is yes, then maybe it’s time to change your schedule.