There is a well – known saying that ‘success attracts success and failure attracts more failure’. Or at least its something close to that. Either way it’s pretty much the truth.
And the idea of it used to scare the crap out of me.
You see I didn’t really understand it. I didn’t have a clear definition of success or failure. More importantly I would struggle with the last part. I mean, if I screw up doesn’t that mean I’m now destined to continue that cycle? I really struggled wrapping my head around this idea.
No, no, no! That is not what I wanted at all; so I would kill myself making sure I didn’t fail or mess up. At least not too badly! I became what I used to call a perfectionist. Now I realize it’s a terribly deep, ingrained fear of being stuck in the failure trap.
Here’s the truth. There is no trap. It doesn’t exist unless you make it so.
Let me give you some examples. I would work on school projects til the wee hours of the morning. I’d change this or that, edit until the words swam in front of my eyes and re-write til my hand felt numb. I once had a job at a fast food place (no, I won’t say which one) and I hated it. I really, really did but I still worked my tail off and would even stay til after my shift to ensure that ‘my’ stuff was done and done right.
Then I started University. I had to wait a year to go to earn some money but I decided to take a night class to get my feet wet so to speak. What I didn’t know is this particular class was about to teach me a lesson not related to psychology.
Big secret reveal – I totally bombed my first paper. Failed it; I mean REALLY failed it…I was horrified, devastated, mortified and embarrassed. I wanted to run and hide but thankfully the Universe is kind, even in its harshest lessons. The professor with over 500 students didn’t have time to see me anytime soon. I was desperate to find out what I did wrong. After all the next paper was coming up! My goodness that feeling of failure and feeling lost was hard to swallow. Then the blessing arrived in the form of an upper class TA. She offered to quickly look over my paper. The content was good but the format was all wrong.
Turns out this is a pretty common problem for first year students. In fact, the University runs a workshop during FROSH week to get everyone on board because so many are not taught proper format for different papers in high school. Of course, because I wasn’t a regular student (one class only) I had no idea. She also told me that she bombed her first paper too and not to worry because University is all about learning.
What a blessing this woman was to me. She suggested the reference book that could help me, which I not only bought but ended up almost wearing out by the time I finished school. Even with that failure, I managed a B+ in that class at the end of it all. Not too shabby a jump! I often thank her again silently when I think about it. She gave me about 15 mins of her time and shared some of her knowledge and it changed my life. I wonder if she knows…
The lesson this class gave me was two-fold. Failure isn’t a cycle you can’t break. What seems like a minor kindness to you, can be everything to someone else.
But I want to talk more about this failure business. I realized something that day, the day of my first big, public crash and burn. I was okay. I didn’t die, or get ridiculed. No one branded me with a giant ‘F’ on my forehead to tell the world I was now just a big ol’ failure.
My failure morphed into a lesson that created success.
I changed my path; broke the cycle or whatever you want to call it because of my mental mindset and my attitude.
I could have done things differently. I could have cried into my pillow and then just given up assuming that I wasn’t cut out for higher learning. Trust me, there were a few people in my life who would have supported that decision. I easily could have taken that path and there would have been easy ways to justify it.
But I didn’t.
This is why I say to you there is no failure trap other than one of your own making. It’s all in how you handle your mess ups.
Have some faith that you can and understand that failure just means that you still have something to learn.