In a recent episode of the GameChurch Podcast, the interviewee briefly touched on a concept he called “the noble failure.” As he explained it within the context of his experiences creating video games, he defined it as making efforts to achieve something, failing at it, and then using that experience as a stepping stone toward the goal.
Sounds basic, doesn’t it? Like something everyone understands and accepts. Unfortunately, the interviewee mentioned that it was something he thought Americans had little, if any, appreciation for while Europeans were a bit more open to it.
I think he’s right.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my country, but in America, failure is failure is failure. If a product isn’t successful, it’s seen as worthless. The same is true of people. If someone isn’t racking up achievements, they’re seen as pathetic. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first, second, third, or 100th attempt. All that matters is success. That’s how their value is measured.
This is both pretentious and shortsighted. It defines people by what they do and what they have and not by who they are. It allows no grace for outside factors—most of which are beyond people’s control—to have an effect on someone’s ability to achieve. No, results are all that matter. Are you a jobless college graduate? You’re a failure. Did you flunk a test in school? You’re a failure. Did your new business close? You’re a failure.
I’ve learned this from hard experiences. I lost my first full-time, post-college job just before the “Great Recession,” which made it ten times harder to find a new one. I already felt like a failure for losing my job, and now I couldn’t get a new one. I did everything I could to improve my chances (updated and rewrote my resume, applied to different places, tried to network, etc.), but nothing seemed to pan out. On top of that, I was still trying to find a publisher for my first novel and get freelance articles published, but I wasn’t having much luck. Then, after a year of grueling effort, I finally got a job—as a part-time delivery driver. I told myself I’d hold onto it while I looked for something better. But as the recession dragged on, that “something better” never seemed to come.
I was berated by some people during these times. A girlfriend dumped me because she thought I wouldn’t be a good provider. Another girlfriend’s father made accusations that I would force his daughter to be the breadwinner while I sat at home writing (and not making any money at it, he implied). The frequent criticisms of my generation created the “lazy, entitled millennial” stereotype, which was hammered into my head. Again, all that mattered was results. Setbacks were unacceptable. Trajectory was insufficient. Failure was the unpardonable sin.
What’s sad is the stories of great people are replete with failures. Depending on who you talk to, J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was rejected nine to 12 times before being accepted. Now it’s a multibillion dollar empire. Can you imagine being one of those 12 editors? They’re eating crow now! Thomas Edison used thousands of different materials trying to make a lightbulb filament and famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” Then he found one that did, and it helped usher in the modern world.
Or how about this superb inspirational Nike commercial:
Michael Jordan, the greatest athlete to play basketball and the winner of six NBA championships, had a long string of failures. If he’d let those define him, he would’ve given up and never accomplished what he did. It was those failures that taught him the lessons he needed to move forward.
That’s my advice to all of you. Don’t let your failures define you. Learn from them. Move forward a wiser person. Most importantly, don’t let anyone judge you because of your failures. As Bernard Baruch (not Dr. Seuss) said, “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” Your real friends/fans/supporters will be gracious and understand. Let them encourage you not to give up on your dreams and goals. We all need that.
What do you think of the idea of “the noble failure”? Does it sound good to you? What “noble failures” have you experienced? What did you learn from them?