“I have failed over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” –Michael Jordan
During my time on this planet, I have rarely tasted the sweet nectar of success. But I have had plenty of experience with failure. It has been this extensive experience that has allowed me to see failure as an opportunity. One of the most recent and tremendous failures of my life was my pursuit of a master’s degree in history from Hunter College.
In the many lessons, I have gleaned from that uncertain time, being brave enough to walk away was certainly one of the most important. From a young age, I was conditioned (as I assume that many in our society are) to not be a “quitter.” I was averse not only to failure but as a result, also to not give up.
Working Harder Is Not Always the Solution
I thought that all I needed to do was to try harder, get up earlier, or do whatever I could to give more in order to achieve my goal: an MA in history. Because I would not give up in the face of something that gradually I found not to be reasonably within my grasp and not aligned with my higher self, I caused myself years of undue suffering. I was in the program for over six years and spent tens of thousands of dollars in that fruitless pursuit.
Without delving further into the grisly details of this experience, suffice it to say that it would have benefited me to have quit many years before I did. I feared it would have to accept failure if I gave up my plan to attain my life/career goal of becoming a college history professor.
However, once I finally walked away, my life took a drastically different direction. Now I am in a better place with amazing opportunities. Additionally, I am on a more fulfilling career path, and I have published three well-received books since I left Hunter in 2015.
But I could not have had these opportunities unless I was willing to quit, accept failure, and move on to something else.
Personal Narratives Impact Our Success
One of the great lessons that I have learned along the way as a writer and as a human being is about how narratives help us to understand and define who we are. There is a great quote by Edward Albee that
“failure is arbitrary and success is inevitable”
if we just keep on trying. I think that part of the journey is being cognizant of the stories we tell ourselves about who we are.
We can look at failures in the past as evidence that we are losers or we can track them as milestones that taught us great lessons that are still integrating into the fabric of our lives. So much of life is about how we process and react to what happens to us. As Viktor Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
What I have found perhaps the most profound and powerful about personal narratives is how just one event can drastically change how we see our past and the story of our life. A string of painful failures can take on an entirely different meaning in the wake of a single life-defining triumph.
So one thing we can all do to benefit ourselves is to consciously consider the stories we are telling about our lives and appreciate the depth and nuances of them. Perhaps, even scrutinizing how we define failure and success.
Trying to see our lives and the stories we tell in a new light might just jar loose the kind of life-altering perspective that leads to a kind of self-love that makes us unbreakable and ultimately successful in the ways we have always sought.
Failure is An Opportunity
Now I have started to see failure more as an opportunity. As rapper Cormega once said, he wasn’t
“afraid to fail if later it will help succeed.”
If you know how to look at life, you can see opportunities everywhere. Sometimes we must burn in the flames of failure before we can drink from the well of success. As author Janet Fitch once quipped:
“The phoenix must burn to emerge.”
The courage to quit is often a less worn path. I have seen many people stay in dead-end jobs, abusive marriages, and other unfortunate circumstances because they did not want to walk the less-trod path of quitting. But without quitting and failure, it is often impossible to navigate the path to the kind of success that brings lasting happiness.