Why Failure is the Best Life Coach

It’s hard not to get discouraged when we fail. I’ve failed a lot, especially over this last year during the MBA program. Trying to learn how to calculate currency exchange rates with only a film degree as your experience is, unsurprisingly, somewhat difficult. Even before that, I was trying  to make it in the entertainment industry and couldn’t find steady work for several long months. At one point I seriously considered sleeping on friends’ couches rather than pay rent.

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These periods of failure in my life represent turning points. In Los Angeles, realizing I couldn’t pay rent forced me to reevaluate what I really wanted out of my life-- and it wasn’t working in entertainment. In the MBA program, it meant I needed to swallow my pride and ask for help.

Our lives are filled with these failures. Some are bigger than others, but all of them are useful.

When I was in high school I played varsity lacrosse (Go Highlanders! And yes, we wore kilts.). Our team never had a strong first half during our games. We dropped passes, missed goals, and communicated worse than a pre-school soccer team.

During halftime our coach would pull us into a huddle, one knee on the ground. She’d make us close our eyes and visualize the ball flying perfectly into the goal. Then she’d say “you guys have always been a second half team. You can do better this time, too.”

Without fail, we’d look like a completely different team in the second half of those games. We nailed passes, yelled calls up and down the field, chased down our opponents--all because we took a moment to assess the lessons learned in the first half and then refused to make the same mistakes twice.

With that approach, you can actually learn more from failure than success.

In this particular failure I learned to never jump from tall rocks.

In this particular failure I learned to never jump from tall rocks.

I can point to so many failures and the specific lessons learned from them, but cannot point to any learned from my successes. Like the time my MBA team competed in a case competition and lost because we forgot who our audience was. We went for an innovative, sexy marketing presentation style-- in a conservative Southern town.

If we’d won that competition, I don’t believe the lesson “know your audience” would have ever been hammered home for me. Now when I’m about to make the same mistake it’s like I have an almost visceral reaction in my gut, as if I’m back in that painful moment of losing the competition and knowing exactly why. Except now I have a chance to change things.

Think about the feedback you get from a project at work. Of course we should all strive to knock it out of the park, but sometimes a simple “great work” isn’t as valuable as advice on what could make it even better.

Would you rather go around thinking you’re good enough at everything and realize years later that you’ve never improved beyond that?

We can’t hit perfection, but we can certainly do better than “good enough”. Failure can get us there. Failure says that you made a mistake, and hearing that hurts. The truth often does.

So take the truth as a gift, and failure as our coach. Imagine her getting down on one knee, telling us to close our eyes and visualize the goal.

Then get back out there and be a second half team.