Why do we fear failure so much?

My piano teacher has instructed me that I’m to have a glass of wine before I practice piano.

He’s constantly reminding me that it’s OK to make mistakes, that as a beginner I need to make mistakes to learn, and he wants me to give myself permission to be imperfect. Thus the wine, to chill out a bit about whether I miss a note, mash two keys at once or any number of other ways I can screw it up about a year into lessons.

I try to remind myself not to let great get in the way of good.

I try to remind myself that perfection is an unattainable goal and that continually improving is a better goal.

But it’s hard.

So I think I need to put “Adapt” on my to-read list. From NPR:

In a complex world, the process of trial and error is essential. That’s what Tim Harford — columnist for The Financial Times — writes in his new book Adapt. And while that idea might seem like common sense, it’s one that is often remarkably hard for humans to accept because errors are associated with failure.

The subtitle of Harford’s book is “Why Success Always Starts with Failure.” For anyone familiar with Internet startups, that concept probably sounds pretty accurate; it seems every successful Internet CEO has a list of past missteps under his or her belt.

Harford tells NPR’s Renee Montagne that businesses outside the Web world stand to benefit from Silicon Valley’s fearlessness because, ultimately, it’s through mistakes that great ideas come about.

“Failure is inevitable; it happens all the time in a complex economy,” he says. “How did the economy produce all these amazing things that we have around us — computers and cellphones and so on? There were a bunch of ideas, and the good ones grew and prospered. And the bad ones were pretty ruthlessly weeded out.”

Go to NPR to hear the interview

When has a mistake or failure helped you move forward?


Categories: career, creativity

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6 replies

  1. For some reason I decided to stretch myself and auditioned for a musical, Miss Saigon, with Ann Arbor Civic Theater. Quality is very important to me and failure is something I have always feared more than I wanted. But they needed men so they put me in the chorus with a short solo and although the director doesn’t encourage us to drink before rehearsal I’ve found the more I don’t judge the better I get. If it doesn’t go well today, things are likely to change in a day or two. Great post Colleen! The show goes up in a week and though I may never be a musical great I’ve learned and experienced so much participating in this process. There is great power in simply taking action. Remember: when trying something new, Don’t Judge.

    • That’s excellent, Pete!
      There’s a great Deepak Chopra piece of advice — remind yourself, today I will judge nothing that occurs.
      The more I think about that, the wiser it is. Don’t judge others because what does it accomplish? Don’t judge yourself because you’ll just get in your own way.
      Instead, I think you can look for places to make yourself and the world better but without judging the status quo. And that’s what you’re doing, making yourself better with every rehearsal.
      Break a leg!


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