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Why Failure Helps You Grow

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Failure is never a walk in the park, but mistakes are crucial for change because without challenge, there is no growth. Naoimh Wilkins looks at the stumbling blocks to success.

Have I experienced setbacks? Of course. Last year, a career catastrophe sent me into a tailspin. So much so that I travelled thousands of miles to another continent in order to recharge my batteries, and ahem, find myself. FYI, it was the best thing I could have done. And with hindsight plus perspective, I could see that the job that didn’t work out was a bad fit from the beginning.

Failure, both professional and personal, is a very normal part of life. Making mistakes is how we learn and improve, leaving us emerging stronger and wiser after each setback. “Making mistakes is as natural as breathing. But a lot of us approach these situations with shame,” says psychotherapist Trish Murphy (trishmurphy-psychotherapy.com).

This makes sense. Society praises perfection, so it’s no surprise that we all have an inherent fear of failure. When lining up interviews for this feature, I found myself tip-toeing around the subject matter. Opening with “I’m writing a piece on failure and I’d like to interview you” feels like taking a sledgehammer to someone’s self-esteem.

Failure doesn’t feel good. That’s a given. But often, the worst things that happen to us, eventually, become the best things. Setbacks are life’s road signs, telling us to stop doing something that obviously isn’t working; crises stir the courage needed to make a change, clearing the way for something better.

Etsy

The Cava Bodega restaurant in Galway, owned by well-known restaurateurs JP McMahon and Drigín Gaffey, has been open for one year. However, the new space on Middle Street isn’t the first incarnation of the Spanish-themed eatery. Prior to its new locale, it traded on Dominick Street for five years. The move happened after a tenancy disagreement with their
landlord as the couple struggled to 
keep up with the rent.

“At the end of January 2013, Cava on Dominick Street closed its doors. It was heartbreaking. So much happened during that time. We were newly married when we first set up the restaurant, and we had two babies within those years,” says Drigín. After walking away, the intention was never to reopen Cava. Instead, the pair planned on opening another restaurant with a new concept, and a new name. “When we were contacted about the premises on Middle Street, it just felt right,” she adds. Cava in its latest reinvention is doing better than its predecessor, while their first cookbook, Tapas: A Taste of Spain in Ireland, was published last December.

In Megan McArdle’s book, The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success, she talks about how high monkey bars have disappeared from playgrounds, making it impossible for children to fall very far, and how doing this robs them of the joys of climbing high. In essence, we’re doing our children a disservice: being brave enough to feel the fear and do it anyway is a great life skill. But making children so scared of failing that they never try isn’t doing them any favours. Instead, being taught how to fail well is an invaluable lesson.

JK Rowling is the poster girl for perseverance. It took Rowling twelve attempts to get the bestselling Harry Potter series published. And, well, we all know how that turned out. Rewind to before the boy wizard made her a household name, and seven years after graduating from university, Rowling saw herself as a failure. Living in Edinburgh, separated from her husband, and unemployed with a child, she has described her situation at that time as being “poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless”. Her inspirational speech given to Harvard University graduates in 2008 – watch it on ted.com – extols the fringe benefits of failure.

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

“Failure is so important. We speak about success all the time. Yet it is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success,” says Rowling.

Trish Murphy agrees: “It’s just like falling off a bike – getting back on is key, but nobody is pushing you to get back on on a motorway! Instead, keep the metaphorical stabilisers on for a while until you’re feeling more confident.” Novelist and playwright Samuel Beckett encouraged us all to go on failing. Only next time, try to fail better. And he’s right because failure is not the falling down, but staying down afterwards.

Follow Naoimh on Twitter @NaoimhWilkins

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