07 Oct, 2011

How to be a Big, Stinking Failure

I should not like to be wrong,” said Poirot. “It is not―how do you say? ― my metier.” ― Agatha Christie

I know I am the first to up-sell change. Change is oxygen. Change is inevitable. It keeps things fresh, and reminds us to savour every fleeting moment.

However, with change comes awareness and things learned during the transition.

The thing about the learning process though, is that it comes almost rife built-in with mistakes. Call it teething, call it beta testing. Point is, you’re still finding your feet. While nobody likes to be wrong, I have to repeatedly tell myself (who at present, is all kinds of wrong), that it is how one learns.

Whether you have to be burned by a partner one too many times to discover they’re not right for you, move cities, played musical chairs with your career, or go back to school at 45 and wonder if you’ve made a horrible mistake because all the 19 year olds around you seem to get it… if you at present are royally sucking at what you do, keep at it. Keep sucking. Hard. Embrace failure, as Dan Wieden of Wieden + Kennedy tells his people.

Football is a religion in Melbourne, where I’m from. One thing that strikes me is how some fans of the losing team get disheartened in the third quarter and leave before the game ends. Leaving a game prematurely because you believe your team will lose strikes me as defeatist. Even when you’re down for the count with minutes left on the clock, I’d like to believe that you never know when your luck will turn.

For Wrongologist, Kathryn Schulz (she’s the bee’s knees) in this absolutely fascinating talk, our willingness and courage to be wrong and vulnerable to mistakes is also what makes us creative and innovative. And so uniquely human. I love her take on things.

  • Be diligent about applying every lesson the next time around. Put your heart in it.
  • Don’t lose heart. Tell yourself you’re in it for a reason.
  • After every lesson, break down what you’ve learned.
  • Continue taking risks. Continue being vulnerable, pliable, teachable. Continue trying, giving, sharing, relating, exchanging. Never stop being the best part of what makes you, you.
  • Acknowledge when you’re wrong, don’t take criticism personally.
  • The whole thumb-that-was-transplanted-and-suddenly-required-to-be-a-lung feeling will ease in time. Your brain is creating new and amazing pathways to what you’ve learned daily. Synapses are firing, connections are being made. You will navigate the maze soon.
  • Maybe you’ll never truly appreciate what it means to get something right without first getting it so spectacularly wrong.
  • Instead of beating yourself up about it, focus on getting it perfect the next time.
  • There are no mistakes just as there is no such thing as coincidence. You need to learn the lessons.
  • Being wrong doesn’t make you any less of a person.
  • Keep going.
  • Fail fast, fail early, fail often.
  • Failure isn’t fatal. Unless you die from embarrassment.


The Best Recruits that May Not Be Who You Think A great read from the WSJ, if you ever questioned why you are where you are.

Better By Mistake An interview with Alina Tugend, author of Better by Mistake: the Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong.

Anchor image via Wieden + Kennedy’s Portland office.

One Response to “How to be a Big, Stinking Failure”

  1. […] 1. KNOW WHAT YOU WANT, AND KILL IT “Success,” she said, “is most often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.” And like Wieden+Kennedy say say, fail harder. […]

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