Fail Fast, Learn Quick

You are standing on the edge of a cliff. Beneath your feet the blue of the ocean is hypnotizing you. Waves are breaking powerfully on the rocks. “You can do that!” – “Can I do that?” – “You just dive in” -“What if I crash?” – The voices in your head are fighting a running battle. Finally with the heartbeat up to your chin you jump. A rush of adrenaline is taking your breathe before you plunge smoothly into the water.

For a fraction of a second you lose your sense of direction. One moment later you are already back on the surface. A smile arises from your inside while you are swimming with ease back to the boulders you climbed before. “The next time I gonna do a cannonball.”, you think to yourself with a sense of fulfillment.

Jumping down these five meters was just a matter of overcoming your fear of failure. By making a leap you became aware of your true capabilities.

It is by diving into the unknown that we learn. We are learning to swim, we are learning to jump off cliffs (or three meter towers), we are learning to interact with others, we are learning a different language, new skills. At the beginning we are making mistakes: We might land on our belly the first time we jump off the cliff. Or we can’t wrap our head around the verb classifications of a new language. But we are getting there slowly. Our brain gets there, because it creates new connections everytime we supposedly “fail”.

A long time I’d rather do nothing than doing something wrong. What I didn’t understand was that I only learn through my mistakes. More and more in the process of learning to appreciate my own suffering I’m understanding that this “suffering” is just the pain I feel after making a what I consider “wrong” decision. Or it is caused by this fear of making the wrong decision.

At the moment I’m fighting a lot of battles with myself about which way to go, which job to keep, which friends to meet or which new destination to target. Whether if it is on a personal level or on a professional level – these thoughts are stealing my energy and shattering my last nerve.

What I’m practicing is the acceptance of this pain AND the ability to make a decision anyways. Yes, making a decision not the (the only right) decision.

Mistakes are invariable in the process of making anything better (a life or a product). To put it differently – failure is inevitable on the way to success. The inventor of the light bulb Thomas Edison and his team tested around 3000 (!!) different designs for the light bulb before they found a solid solution. It took years.

Without failure also personal growth is not possible. We don’t learn, if we do everything perfect all the time. Because if we do everything perfect we only adjust to the demands, but we never actually seize our full potential.

I’m repeating myself: What had always been holding me back from achieving personal or professional goals was my fear of failure!

Now I’m trying a different approach: I prototype my life. I define, I try, I fail, I improve – “trial and error”.  How ever you want to call it – the idea is the same. A prototype is not perfect. It improves in iterations and so does my life. 

Okay, so far so good. That’s easier said than done. But how are we going to put this in practice?

1. Don’t be attached to the image you have of yourself

We don’t realise that we become the slaves of our own thoughts by saying: “This is just how I am.” These thoughts are planted into our head – either by ourselves or by our surrounding. Maybe we are still attached to the idea we had about ourselves when we were twelve years old?

You don’t consider yourself as creative? Maybe you just didn’t find the right way to express yourself or you simply have the wrong idea about “somebody who is creative” in your head? You are not a rational thinker? Only because you spoiled your physics exam in school doesn’t mean you can never be an engineer. The most important thing is to understand, that these thoughts are not us – even if we are the ones telling them to ourselves. What if you have skills you never thought of?

2. Don’t fall in love with your ideas

There is a rule in the method of design thinking (and other lean/agile working methods) that links to the written above. “Don’t fall in love with your ideas”. We have this overall image about ourselves in our head. On the other hand we also vision the necessary improvements: Things that need to be done in order to become the person we are supposed to be being.

“When I achieve this and this I gonna be happy.” “If I was just a little bit more rational/outgoing/talkative/had more knowledge/more friends my life would be perfect” or “If I just had that much money, I would be able to live a happy life.” Don’t get me wrong – it is good, no it is neccesary to have goals in life, but by focussing on only the things that we already have in mind we might miss the opportunity to find something else that lights up our heart. With this attitude we close ourselves towards our own truth. So, don’t fall in love with your ideas and stay flexible.

3. Be willing to change

What teaches me the most in life? Basically the situations where I let go of old patterns. The moments when I try something new. The moments when I have to adapt to a new situation. In these moments I can literally feel how my ability to live life properly (whatever that means, I will think about it) had improved. Exposing myself to adversity, trying new jobs, learning new skills – this is what really teaches me the most.

“Invent yourself new” – is not only a slogan from the fashion industry (?). Sticking with the same hobbies, the same interests, the same people can only lead to stagnation. Our brain literally needs stimulation to build new connections. Once in a while it is important to do something where we once said “I’m not the type for this.” We might fail, we might don’t like it, but if we never try we will never know.

4. Be open for advice

The great thing about living amongst other human beings is that we can learn from each other. Everyone of us makes their own experiences and creates their personal reality.

In order to broaden our horizon we need to listen to others. We can’t change our perspective by standing at the same point of view. Sometimes others know better what we are capable of. A lot of times we limit ourselves with the idea about what we can and what we can’t do. If we take our desires and perspectives too seriously we obstruct the outlook for new opportunities.

5. Drop this f*cking perfectionism

… and cultivate a healthy failure culture. Aiming for perfection leads nowhere. Nothing will ever be perfect or to put it differently: everything is already perfect. With this approach every new start becomes easier. There is nothing to achieve, there is only something to learn. Don’t blame yourself for being a failure only because things don’t turn out how you wish. Accept your mistakes as being a part of the process.

6. Be willing to start again and again and again…..

“Nobody said it was easy….” In order to improve anything in our life we need patience. Sometimes I ask myself: “Will I ever learn?” I feel like I’m doing the same mistakes over and over again. But with this question I already hold myself back from learning. Instead I have to acknowledge: “Hmm, again the same mistake. What have I learnt this time?” The lessons we face are always confronting us for a reason. The same mistakes are just reminding us to keep digging. This is the peaceful war with ourselves. 

Conclusion

While we grow older we lose our sense of adventure a little bit. We are trying to predict the future by considering risks, opportunities and values of a decision. A lot of times we are trying to make “the right decision” instead of allowing ourselves to leave things a little bit more open.

What if we admit that we can’t predict the outcome of a decision anyways? Instead we remain in a state of fear. This fear is leaving us in a state of faint. I don’t say we need to fail on purpose, but I say we should allow ourselves more often to jump off the cliff into a deep blue ocean of the unknown.

 

“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Denis Waitley