Did you know that four out of five people will fail at their goals the first time around? The fact that failure is so common probably makes you feel a bit better if you’ve recently experienced it. And we’re glad! The truth is that our culture teaches us to self-promote and spin the negative into a positive so much that it’s easy to actually believe that individual failure is the exception, not the norm.
Now that you feel a little bit less like a pariah, we want to encourage you to lean into the deeper lessons of missing the mark. Because the good news is that failure can fertilize psychological growth. As the New York Times writer David Brooks said in his book, The Road to Character, a diverse group of people from history have taught us that they “had to go down to go up...to climb the heights of character.”
If we face failure with honesty and curiosity rather than trying to escape it, we will eventually come to terms with the reality that we aren’t, as individuals, special. Like everyone else, we are limited, mortal, and imperfect. But instead of making us feel small, failure underscores our shared humanity. This is a much healthier approach to building an identity than through self-esteem, because failure teaches us to connect rather than distinguish ourselves from one another based on merit (or mediocrity).
Humility also corrects an oversimplified storyline we hold dear in North America: that with the right amount of hard work we can become whatever we wish to become. In this view, natural talent, our social location, and plain old luck have nothing to do with success. But if we step back, we realize that success is always an amalgamation of these things. Humble people acknowledge these factors. They also quickly name that others helped them survive past failure and achieve success, that their lives were not and are not mere solo acts. This keeps their individual identities from being too caught up in the outcome of their goals.
Failure can also increase empathy, the ability to look at life from someone else’s perspective and feel what they feel. Simply put, after a failure, when we look at others who have recently experienced a disappointment we know (rather than simply imagine) what it’s like to be in their shoes. That knowledge usually involves deep feeling and compassion. As researcher Stephen Hayes notes so powerfully, “Con [artists] have perspective, but not empathy. It’s failure that gets us there. The poets tell us that sadness scoops out a place where love can reside, where we know more about what it’s like to be human.” Less con artists in the world, and more empathy. That sounds badly needed, doesn’t it? So lean into the loss and keep growing. The world needs to get deeper because of your unrealized dreams.
Growing Stronger Every Day
At Oats Overnight, we believe that leaning into learning is the recipe for personal growth and success. Embracing setbacks and growing from our mistakes is how we got started as a company and how we continue to improve each day. We invite you to join us by pursuing your own goals as the strongest version of yourself, fueled by a premium breakfast and backed by a community whose members help one another overcome the challenges of daily life.
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