“What is defeat? Nothing but education, nothing but the first step to something better.“- Wendell Phillips.
Fear of defeat can be a crippling affliction.
The fear that if we take some course of action we might fail can be strong enough to cause many of us to not even start down the road leading to that action.
And what happens if we do not take action? We remain in a state of in-action. Which doesn’t help move us forward in anything at all.
But is that fear really of any help to us?
What would happen if we did get it wrong?
Would the world really end?
OK, for a very small minority of actions the consequences of failure could indeed be a matter of life and death, that is true. But such actions are not ones undertaken lightly, they are ones for which one has trained extensively, for which one has significant support and backup, so total failure is very unlikely.
But for the vast majority of things that we encounter in our everyday life, fatality is not a consequence of defeat or failure.
And yet, all too often, we allow the fear of defeat to hold us back. Which ultimately harms us and our development, for we learn best not through our successes but through our failures and defeats. When we succeed at something, we discover one way of doing it; but when we fail, we learn so much more!
It is rumoured that Thomas Edison, the inventor of the electric lightbulb, took 10,000 attempts before he succeeded. At one stage, Edison was interviewed by a young reported who asked if Edison felt like a failure and if he thought he should just give up by now. Perplexed, Edison replied, “Young man, why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up? I now know definitively over 9,000 ways that an electric light bulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp.” And shortly after that, and over 10,000 attempts, Edison invented the light bulb.
Just imagine how much darker (quite literally) all our lives would be had Edison decided to give up after his first defeat? We are fortunate that he had the drive and determination to continue, and the intelligence to realise that defeat was not failure, it was very valuable education.
Have you ever fancied someone, but been too afraid to approach them and ask them out in case they said no? Most of us have at various stages in our lives, albeit these are situations we’d probably rather forget; I know I have been in those situations several times. I’d see them, I really wanted to get to know them better, but I was too cared to ask them out in case they said no. So I didn’t get to know them better. But suppose I had asked? What’s the worst that could have happened? Even if they said no, I’d be no worse off than I was before; indeed, I’d be better off because I would have learned some things about asking someone out; at the very least I would know how not to do it next time, which would put me at an advantage the next time I found myself in that position.
Think of when you learned to drive a car (if you can’t drive a car then I’m sure you can think of an equivalent skill you possess); I am willing to bet that you didn’t sit in the car on day 1 and drive it perfectly! No, you probably stalled it a few times, took some time to get used to the basics, made plenty of mistakes along the way. But did you give up because you couldn’t drive perfectly at the start? No! You took those failures for what they were – opportunities for education, and you learned those lessons, improving your skill and ability with each step.
And so it is for all of us with anythingwe undertake. We are very unlikely to do things perfectly from the outset. But that’s no reason to avoid taking those actions in the first place. They key is to realise that we are going to make mistakes, lots of them, and to resolve to learn everything we can from those mistakes, to make the most of the opportunities for education which they really are, and to become even better in whatever we are undertaking.
Next time you face a challenge and you are scared to do anything in case of failure, take a moment to stop and reflect. Consider what is the worst which could happen; really consider it carefully for the chances are it will be much less serious than you dread.
Next, take the preparations you need to be able to survive that outcome, bearing in mind it’s not going to be as bad as you fear, and you can absolutely survive whatever the outcome is.
And then go for it with the determination to succeed knowing that any defeats you encounter along the way are nothing more than guidance, learnings and education opportunities, knowing that if you take the opportunity to learn from those then not only will you succeed, you will have far greater success than you could have ever before dreamed!
Then really embrace any defeats you encounter, knowing they will serve only to make you better, stronger and ultimately more successful.