I was listening to a podcast by Sara Blakely, the founder of the billion dollar company Spanx. One thing I took away from her interview changed my entire thought process. She said that at the dinner table every night, her father would ask her: “How did you fail today?”
“All my life, I was taught how to deal with failure,” she said.
Sara believes that she got comfortable with failure at an age when every other kid wanted to get an A+ at everything.
This helped me understand why I become disappointed at even the silliest failures. We were not taught to accept our failures. We are taught that we can never fail at anything. As such, never not start anything new. We end up wanting to avoid mistakes, and not learn anything new.
Every year, during the time of publication of the results of public exams, we hear news of students who commit suicide because they failed in their exams. There are also many incidents of primary students committing suicide from being scolded for earning poor grades in public examinations.
Here, parents consider good the results of their children as something of a social marker. And we give a message to toddlers that someone who fails their tests has no right to live (almost).
One of my cousins got angry with me the other day. I told her eight-year old daughter: “You do not have to study for such a long time at this age. Go outside in the afternoon and interact with your friends.”
I stayed two days at their house, and found that she had two private tutors coming to their house in the afternoon.
“How can you say that? Do you know that you telling her this will make it harder for me to get her to study?” my cousin accosted me in a particularly harsh tone.
“She must get higher grades in her primary terminal examination than our neighbour’s daughter,” she said.
After talking to some other parents, I understand that it is a common tendency of parents in Bangladesh to compete with their neighbours with the results of their children.
This mindset of fearing failure finds root during our childhood, and they remain there till death.
I often come across many people with excellent ideas of enterprises but they fear starting something because the question of “what if I fail” always pops up in their minds.
Many people in Bangladesh do not start something new only because of this fear. Some start something and fail, and then the fear does not let them start anything new again.
What will actually happen if we fail? Nothing. Simply nothing. There are many successful people in the world who failed in their early careers. Alibaba founder Jack Ma should be somethwere near the top of any such list.
He failed his exit exams multiple times in elementary and middle school. He even applied to Harvard 10 times and failed. After three years in college, he tried applying for 30 jobs and got rejected by all of them. But, these failures helped him become what he is today.
The story of Colonel Harland Sanders of KFC is even more amazing. Experiencing failure after failure, he succeeded only when he was in his late 60s. The list can go on. Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Bill Gates, Walt Disney, and many others can be in the list. Some of the most successful people went through enormous failures.
So, nothing will happen if we fail. In fact, we need to get used to failing. Failure will teach us lessons, and these lessons will make us successful. We should not be afraid of failure, rather, we should try to fail every day.
Mushfique Wadud is a journalist.