Learning to Fail

In recent times, I have been exceedingly reading about failure and its consequences. My personal journey has pushed me to start studying two elements in great detail – fear and failure. Having spent nights in cold sweats and grinding myself emotionally while having those demonic anxiety attacks, my only companion was myself. So what do I do? What should I do? Where should I go? What could I possible do to run millions of miles away from the nagging visions of fear creeping up my body and strangling me till I suffocate? I felt it. As Frost said, “The only way out is through”.

I started owning up to the fact that I know nothing, that I am solely responsible for my present circumstances and therefore, I must drop the blame game. It was tough, I must admit. The sweet taste of blaming someone for your own failures is the cherry on top of a cake, which has engraved, if only he/she/they said/did/didn’t say/didn’t do something, I wouldn’t be here. Slice that cake into tiny little pieces and eat it.

Then came the episode of reading, watching and listening to TED Talks and Stanford Commencement speeches over a bucket of KFC. What I learned over the months that followed is that successful people like Steve Jobs, J.K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Walt Disney, et al, were nothing but failures. They failed time and time again till they couldn’t fail anymore. But I knew this – their stories, so why is it teaching me my lesson now? I questioned the root of such a theory in existence – why are fear and failure the Death Eaters in our school of life? Where did it come from? Why are we so afraid? Was it our beautifully conditioned mind barricaded in socially and traditionally constructed thought processes which only rewards perfection and resents the tiniest of flaws? Maybe.

But let’s face it, we will have fears and we, undoubtedly, have overflowing, imperfect emotions, which we cannot control, leading to some sort of a rock bottom event in our lives. Heartbreaks, loss of loved ones, death, diseases, unemployment and a variety of incidents will inevitably occur in the course of our lives. So my question is, why are we teaching only about success and not about failure? Why are we teaching bravery and not the courage to confront our fears? Why are we arguing about faith when we are teaching only about the certainties about life? Where is the patience in a system where rewards are systematic and fixed for a specific outcome?

The current system of education originates from an outdated concept. To quote renowned educator, Sugata Mitra, Victorians assembled an education system to mass-produce workers with identical skills. Plucked from the classroom and plugged instantly into the system, citizens were churned through an educational factory engineered for maximum productivity. And it worked. However, fear was a strong element injected into the education system where if you fail, you are nothing but a loser. The emphasis on what you “must be” or “have to be” has created a culture of mass-produced students graduating with similar degrees, oblivious to their unique talents. Failure is thus the demon, and success, the God of all things. Alas, we forget that to see light, we need to experience darkness; to reach the top, we must start from the bottom.

I say we create a culture where we learn to deal with failures and embrace our imperfections from an early age. Let’s create a safe environment, which is this world, our home, where we can stumble upon our obstacles and have the courage to rise up and conquer our fears because we have been equipped with the lessons of resilience. But can we? Are we courageous enough to choose faith over fear and welcome failures before success? Can we uniquely define success for each individual and not manufacture life as a “one size fits all” concept? Perhaps, we can try. Just maybe we can fail at first and then at last, succeed?

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