I’ve written several times before about failure, including its inevitability: “Have you ever known anyone who never experienced failure?” I wrote. “Of course not. We all live. We all breathe. And we all fail – at least sometimes. That seems to be a law of nature.”
At the time, I also wrote: “Since you can’t avoid failure, you may as well get used to it.”
I still believe that. However, I’ve since updated my thinking to where I now believe there are some kinds of failures you can – and should – avoid.
Here are some of the simple causes of failures you have the potential to avoid:
Divorce from Reality
Einstein is often quoted as saying something along the lines of: “Reality may be an illusion, but it’s an extremely persistent one.” Whether or not he actually said it, and what he may have meant by it, are beyond the scope of this discussion.
But regardless of your personal take on philosophy and existence, what’s definitely true is that you buck reality at your own peril. Ignore what’s genuinely going on around you and lurking – or even not-so-lurking – dangers will often take a bite out of you.
The opposite is also true: simply paying close attention to your current situation constitutes a major step toward success.
Your efforts to grasp reality should center around the classic SWOT analysis:
But this approach only touches the surface. The study of reality is never-ending, and deeply fascinating. Others can teach you how to pay attention to reality far better than I can. I’m just telling you to do it like your life depends on it.
There are a great many famous quotations encouraging people to be bold, take risks, have courage, and pursue their most important tasks, projects, and goals right to the very end.
They all point to great ways you can avoid the category of failure that comes from mental or emotional weakness.
Here’s one good quotation, from hockey great Wayne Gretzky: “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.”
Obviously, there’s no guarantee that you will make all the shots you do take, which harkens back to the inevitability of failure. But Gretzky is saying you need to take at least some shots, or you’re not fully participating in the game. Your willingness to take some shots at the goal is a strategy of strength that will help you avoid this category of failure.
Of course, you need to learn your tools, develop your skills, and practice your tactics. But none of that does any good unless you’re also mentally and emotionally strong enough to deliver your best shots when the opportunities become available to you.
Hear Your Critics
Unless you’re perfect, you’re surrounded by people who are pointing out your weaknesses, highlighting your mistakes, and criticizing your powers of analysis and decision-making.
You should listen to them.
Not because they’re always right, but because your critics are weather-vanes that help you identify the most fruitful directions in which you can learn and grow.
Critics will rarely point out your strengths, your top skills, or your track record of successes. No, they will much more often remind you of areas you might not recognize in which you can most fruitfully grow stronger, perform better, and learn the most from your past mistakes.
What’s more, if you stay strong under such an onslaught, the stimulation you get from your critics and the desire you feel to prove them wrong will often bring out your best ideas, plans, and efforts.
As a by-product, your critics also keep you humble.
I’ve already mentioned the relevance of reality, but now I want to break out one small slice of reality for further discussion: your own self. It’s vital to know your own strengths and weaknesses, your passions and your dreams, your aspirations and your goals, because the most disheartening category of failures results when you voluntarily throttle back from your best efforts.
These kinds of failures come about when you:
- Don’t try your hardest.
- Don’t use all your capabilities to the fullest.
- Don’t fully prepare for an effort.
- Don’t stick with an effort long enough to give it a fair chance of working out.
By taking the time and making the effort to learn who you are, what you are capable of, and what you care most about, you prime the pump for maximum efforts that generally work against these kinds of failures.
What’s more, even if your best efforts result in failure, you eliminate the regret that nearly always comes with a half-hearted try, and that often leads to more failures of the same kind in the future.
The world will certainly get the better of you from time to time, but far less often if you remove these avoidable mistakes from every aspect of your work and your life.
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