Fail. It doesn't matter.

Today, my friends, we celebrate the International Day for Failure, an international holiday to “ for anyone to rethink, share and learn from failure“.

Despite the word international in its nay name, the day seems to be a mostly Finnish concept – and a rather badly known and not so widespread at that. Indeed, the festival’s Facebook page has a paltry 1000 likes. Might have something to do with the traditionally-Finnish mentality. Never the one to show their weaknesses and such.

Regardless, I think it’s a great concept.

Here’s why.

Less fear

Very few people like to fail, and that’s putting it lightly. Failing sucks. Indeed, we are all afraid of failing, to a degree.

Taking a moment to celebrate failing helps to alleviate some of these fears. Granted, a lonely night filled with booze, self-pity, and remembrance of everything you ever did wrong probably won’t do much. Watching a fail compilation on Youtube – now we’re talking. There are millions of those. And as stated on the event’s website, none of the heroes on those clips planned to fail.

Indeed, sharing a few good stories with your friends (or friendly strangers on the Internet) might make you realize how often people fail really fail. In case you had the illusion you were some kind of a special cursed snowflake always getting everything wrong.

Or, let’s say, how often people think they fail. More often than not they’re the only one even noticing their little miss-step.

2016-10-13_fail2

More trying

The absence (or reduction) of fear is a nice outcome in itself. However, it may also set off some nicely cumulative positive feedback loop (see here or here for some examples).

Ever chickened out of doing something for fear of failing?

Thought so.

As mentioned, everybody does it, more or less.

And almost everybody should not. Unless there’s a real risk of bodily (or property) harm included, just go for it.

Just take a moment think back to all those times you failed at something minor. What was the worst thing that happened. Felt a little embarrassed for a while? Big deal.

Next time you’re considering whether to do something – anything – think back again. Get my point?

Preparedness

Acknowledging the possibility – or should I say probability – of failure enables you to prepare for it. Mind you, I’m not speaking about mixing up words while talking to your boss.

No, this is about moderately-severe fuck-ups. Not necessarily disaster-level, but still something you’d reaaally like to avoid. Something that takes hours, days, or weeks to sort up.

Make no mistake – those can happen to you.

Acknowledge that.

Now plan for it, at least on the conceptual level. Even if the scenario scares the crap out of you.

Now, this in an extreme example, but: Do you think nuclear engineers don’t plan for disasters? They do. They really, really do. Of course, they do their darnest to ensure nothing bad ever happens. The redundancy levels in all the safety systems there are staggering. But they go way beyond that. They have plans for the extremely-unlikely reactor meltdown, from concrete pools for the corium melt to water reservoirs to carry of the excess heat.

Not a nice outcome to consider, but a necessary one.
Not a nice outcome to consider, but a necessary one.

Mind you, I’m definitely not suggesting you take a six-sigma risk-management approach to everything you do. That would directly contradict my previous point.

No, I’m simply suggesting you acknowledge the possibility of failure, and have some kind of appropriate plan. 90 percent of the time, simply shrugging it off will do. No need to go plan further than that.

For the remainder, it helps to have something planned. That way, you don’t have a total shit-stroke when you royally fuck up that big order.

Oh and by the way! No matter what level of fail you are planning for – please, just please have Take responsibility as number one point in your plan.

Prevention

This is a direct follow-up to my previous point. Making some plans in case of a failure might actually help you to prevent one.

Let’s continue with our nuclear example. Do you know what’s the best way to limit environmental damage from a meltdown? Making sure one never happens. Haha. I’m serious. Now we (or the engineers, really) can go on to figure out how to make said meltdown as unlikely as possible.

That would be quite hard to do if you were completely dead-set that a meltdown cannot happen.

Learning from it

A cliché. I’m really bad at this – I often have to make the same mistake at least thrice before I learn anything.

Moving on

One final point. Take a moment or two to ponder upon everything you or anybody else ever did slightly wrong. Quite hard ain’t it – there’s simply too much.

Even bigger mistakes probably don’t feel so big once enough time has passed.

Also, sometimes simply letting go is the best thing to do. Supercell, one of the sponsors of the day, celebrates failed projects with champagne. Not because they are a desirable outcome, but because they happen. And when they do, it’s better to simply move on and spend your time on something profitable. No point in getting stuck.

And even if you did do something irrevocably wrong in the past, be it years or mere seconds ago – it’s still in the past. No time travel for you yet, sorry. There’s simply no way to un-do something that’s been done. Nil. All you have left is damage control (see the point on preparedness above).

In other words, moving on or moving onwards.

No matter how painful.

This cat knows it won't catch the bird this today. Now it's the time to come back down.
This cat knows it won’t catch the bird this today. Now it’s the time to come back down.

Now go fail at something.

-Antti


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International Day for Failure

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