Why Rejections, Failures and Setbacks are the Key to Awesomeness

Why Rejections, Failures and Setbacks are the Key to Awesomeness

I fail at a lot of things, and I’m not ashamed to say that I fail spectacularly.

As a fiction writer, I have a whole folder of novel starts that got trashed because of procrastination. As a blogger, I was crazy enough to pitch to ProBlogger (and yes, fail) when my own analytics were damn flat. And as a career hopeful, I was uncommon enough to choose writing as a profession, despite my mom and dad being CPAs.

I guess you could say that I’m not afraid to fail. To aim high and get shot down in a laughable shower of sparks. To be called unconventional, impractical, or sometimes downright stupid.

My point is that you shouldn’t be afraid either.

You shouldn’t be afraid because trial and error sometimes solves the most complex problems. I mean, just watch Tim Harford and his TED Talk on it. By trying and failing, we get better at knowing our systems and limits.

More importantly, by embracing failure, we encourage ourselves to risk it all when we feel our passions deserve it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I realize you want some data to go along with that story, so your wish is my command.

What am I still doing, despite everything?

  • After four other false novel starts and about sixty pages of assorted content, I’ve finally understood how to persevere. Right now, my novel is being edited and will be released in July 2013.
  • I wrote this guest post despite getting a little discouraged when previous attempts were rejected. I’ll also be brainstorming even more pitches – preparing myself for the “Thanks, but no thanks!” that may come.
  • I’m still running my blog despite seeing meager results. My mind and heart still cling ferociously to the idea that hard work will bring me success. As the saying goes, “It can only get better from here.”
  • As audacious as it may seem, I’m contacting all sorts of professors to learn from them. I may be a writer and I may be a teen, but all fields have the potential to improve my craft. At 14, I contacted a professor with 2 PhDs. The next year, I contacted a pioneer in international relations – Dr. Alexander Wendt, and he ended up sending me study material. Now that I’m sixteen, I’ve contacted Dr. Aubrey de Grey and solicited his opinions on immortality. Add to that, I contacted a former CEO of St. Martin’s Press, and had him interviewed on my blog. He had a lot to teach in that post, and it may help you if you write fiction or screenplays.

Who knows what’ll happen now that I’m 17 this year? I anticipate more learning ahead.

Now you go, “So what’s your point again?”

If there’s anything you’ll ever take away from this post, please let it be this one:

Embrace your failures.

In fact, fail often. Experiment a bit and see what works. Try a new format for the pages on your blog. Start that book you’ve been meaning to write. If you want, aim high and prepare for the possibility of getting trashed. Pitch a guest post, learn a new skill, or even start a business that you’re passionate about.

No matter what you try from all the options available, let these two brilliant men guide you with their words:

Failure is everywhere. And it’s fascinating. Most importantly, understanding failure is the key to understanding success. – Tim Harford

Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. – Samuel Beckett

And of course, if you’re failing at your blog right now and want to get better, this blog post from Men with Pens is going to rescue you.

Remember to fail a lot, fail often and fail with an open mind. And of course, your comments are always welcome!

PS. Remember the mention above about failing my pitch to ProBlogger? Well, between the time that was written and now, I pitched again and succeeded. My guest post is already up on the site, and it will teach you to forget willpower and implement a different system for dominating bad blogging habits.

Post by Bea Kylene

Bea Kylene Jumarang is a fiction writer and the blogger behind Writing Off the Rails. When she’s not working on her books or her blog, she’s often thinking in a Starbucks cafe and socializing with people on Twitter.

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  1. James, are you really only 16? I am soooo impressed. Your writing is very mature and interesting. If you’ve achieved all this already, you will go very far. Keep up the good work.

    • Well, I’m told I don’t look my age (41), but I can only pass for my late 30s. 16 is pushing it ;)

      This post is a guest post by Bea Kylene – she’s the one who gets the kudos for being the young ‘un!

    • Hi Patricia! Thank you so much for your comment, and please know that I appreciate your compliments. Glad you liked my style of writing, and I hope this post has taught you something.

      James – thanks so much for having me on here. It’s a blast. Here I am as promised, fulfilling my duty with a happy smile on my face. Hope to collaborate in the future also!

  2. A 16-year-old with a published novel? Color me impressed, and a little jealous really, as it’s an unavoidable truth that I’m going to miss my self-imposed deadline of publishing a novel before I’m 30. Kudos to Bea for writing the post, and James for publishing it.

    • Chris, first of all, thanks for the comment and the compliment on me getting a novel done at this age. I just had my birthday Sep 26, so I’m now seventeen, and the learning goes on. Thank you for the kudos, it has put a smile on my face.

  3. “More importantly, by embracing failure, we encourage ourselves to risk it all when we feel our passions deserve it.” – It’s a jewel to have this mindset. To not make a compromise even for a second when you know you crave for something. And albeit our compliance to things not connected with our passion looks fairly innocuous, the truth of the matter is that it’s limiting our potential to say the least. Fearing to experience failure, we are most definitely experiencing mediocrity.
    Great post Bea

    • Slavko, thank you so much for your comment! I’m glad that the post and its general topic resonates with you. I feel that failure really needs to be embraced, and that we need to risk it all in certain situations. That said, I also think it’s prudent to remember things Tim Harford said.

      1. Be willing to fail, a lot
      2. Fail on a survivable scale (as much as possible)
      3. Fix your mistakes, fast (adapt)

      Knowing that, I really agree that certain things limit our potential. We need to break out of the mold more, even in small ways. Like Steve Jobs says, “Things don’t have to change the world to be important.”

      Hope this post creates positive change in your outlook and life!

  4. Awesome. Yikes, no wonder I feel late to the party. If I’d known half and done 1/4th at your age, I’d probably be doing the same thing I’m doing now, only with more money? Who knows… thanks for sharing your wisdom, and come guest blog for me at WritingontheWeb.com!

    • Hi Patsi!

      Thank you so much for this comment. My heart is warmed by the fact that you took the time. Also, as to sharing my wisdom – you’re welcome, though I don’t quite feel wise yet. I still know very little, and am very eager to learn more and more things.

      As for guest posting on your site – I’ll check it out!

  5. Great post! Our society doesn’t embrace failure nearly enough. People don’t learn from success — they learn from failing. Did you know that the lubricant WD-40 got its name because the inventor had failed 39 times before! (I love that story.)

    Looking specifically at writers who fail, here is a recent column I’ve written on the subject:
    http://www.publicationcoach.com/why-you-should-welcome-mistakes-in-your-writing/

    • Hi Daphne! I recognized you immediately from your name, because you commented on my guest post over at ProBlogger! Thank you for the continued engagement with my work here on Men with Pens. Firstly, I agree with you that we don’t embrace failure enough.

      Failure tends to be something people hide, versus being worn as a mark of trying. I really think everyone would benefit if we learned to be open about our failures, and using them as data for future endeavors. Personally, I do this a lot, and every failure gets treated as valuable data for further reflection.

      And as for your column – I’m heading over to read it!

  6. Hey Bea,

    I love encountering people who are open to falling flat on their face in pursuit of what they want. Some of the funnest people I’ve ever been around embrace failure. Some of the most successful people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting have failed miserably in their life and they credit this with being one of the primary reasons they’re successful today.

    But Pareto’s Principle, the 80/20 rule dictates that most people won’t and don’t live life this way.

    One of my treasured mentors, Eben Pagan, sees himself as pessimist in the short term. He accepts the 80/20 universal law that dictates that most things, 9 out of 10, he tries out aren’t going to pan out the way he wanted them to.

    He knows that if he keeps taking right action swings at the opportunity, the big money home runs will accumulate based on what he continues to learn from the failures and carry him through all the strike outs.

    All the action he takes will allow him to crack the code on some crucial steps, systems, products, niches, and methodologies that prove to be profitable over the long haul that never would’ve been realized had he operated under the delusion that “If I do something it should work and if it doesn’t work I should quit because this business is bad, the economy is bad, the customers are bad, the money-grubbing corporations are bad, etc.”

    Most people that make a living investing in the stock market are not winners. Of the people who are winners – the top 5-15% – they make all of their money on only a few of their trades. So out of a 100 trades they made for that year, the majority of their money will have come from 5-10 trades they made where they hit it out of the park. Most of their other trades will have lost them money .

    Same thing holds true for poker – most of your winnings will have come from a few hands. Most of the hands you get will be garbage. Most of the hands you play will actually LOSE you money.

    This is the opposite of what our chimpanzee wiring wants us to realize.

    We’re all addicted to instant gratification because we live in an instant gratification driven society. When you smell pizza, you don’t go inside your mind and imagine how drained you’re going to feel 30-60 minutes from the time you shoveled the pizza into your pie hole. You don’t project 20 years ahead and imagine having 47 pounds of accumulated sludge that’s made up of old pizza, ice cream, potato chips, and gummy bears in your colon that’s lodged firmly in place that’s poisoning us from the inside making it all but impossible to take a nice healthy dump. Nope.

    What we do is imagine thing we want RIGHT NOW and then we run towards it.

    Thinking long term is something we don’t come wired with and have to train ourselves to do with mantras like, “80% of what I try is going to fail”.

    This mindset gives you permission to be the perfect non-perfectionist. It makes it okay for you to shut down a project that’s not working and move on to the next experiment.

    • Lewis, there are a lot of things I have to say to you regarding your comment.

      1. Thank you first of all, for your massive engagement. You obviously put a great deal of thought into your comment for my post, and I sincerely appreciate you for that.

      2. As for the main points of your comment, I agree very much with you on them. The Pareto principle is something very much worth remembering, but there is a caveat to the principle which I think is useful. We will never discover our 80-20 combination without first trying a lot of things. We’ll never know the 20 percent that works if we have no idea of the 80 percent that doesn’t.

      3. Given that caveat to Pareto, I think it’s hugely important for us to try a lot of different things. We must be open to failing, and embracing the experiences which failure provides. Most of all, we need to be responsive to what fails, and fix them or reflect on them as needed. Finally, we need to revise our ways based on the realizations we arrive at.

  7. Yes, Bea. This is excellent advice. Fail often, and fail FAST. What you’re doing is failing FAST because you’re starting really early. You’ll learn things that other writers don’t learn until they’re many years older. Again, let’s fail often and also fail FAST so that we learn the hard lessons sooner.

    Best-

    Sarah

    • Hi Sarah, and thanks first of all for this comment. I definitely agree with you on the failing fast sentiment, since I think we need to be very open to ideas, which gives us a lot of things to test (and yes, fail at). So, as an extension of your comment, I would say we really need to have more ideas, to test more things and be prepared to fail with greater volume.

      Having many failures gives you quite a lot of things to learn from.

  8. Wonderful stuff Bea, I am a 62 year old contrarian and somewhat eccentric boomer. Very happy to have found my way to men with pens (from a reference in Chris Brogan and Julien Smith’s new Impact Equation book) and to your post.

    Two observations:

    I think you must be an avid and good reader to write that well.

    You have restored my faith that your generation does have bright people who will ensure the survival of our species. (I try not to read the newspapers or watch tv too much, but some of the negative stuff still sinks in)

    As for failing, I have had some spectacularly catastrophic failures, some seemed as if they would be unsurvivable at the time, but the heavens did not fall on my head and I did survive to fail again.

    Because of the failures, I have had a good share of successes and an extraordinary life. I am still exploring new ways to fail and new ways to have fun, just started learning to play my first musical instrument.

    Thanks again for an inspiring post.

    • Peter, it’s wonderful to hear that my post has inspired you. For me, that’s probably one of the highest compliments I can get, and it matters even more because I got it from someone your age. It warms my heart when adults find something to mine from a teen like me.

      Anyhow, thank you as well for the compliment on my writing. I am in fact a very happy reader, both in print and with my trusty Kindle. My motto in life is to connect what I learn from a variety of disciplines, so I love learning about all sorts of stuff. I am all for being unrestricted when it comes to reading.

      Lastly, I hope that your quest in music succeeds, and thank you for this comment. I’m sure that your life has been a rich one, and I wish you all the best.

  9. Hi Bea,
    How can you value progression if you have never suffered from backlash? And what better way to learn from mistakes than learning it the hard way… Lessons learned in blood are oftentimes the lessons remembered the longest. Great post, Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Anton, thanks for your comment. Firstly, your name is pretty special, as one of my book characters is named Anton. And I love the avatar – very quirky! Now as for the interplay of progression and backlash, it’s the pattern of life. Life is contrast, and the ones who embrace that are the ones who live the fullest.

      I appreciate your engagement!

  10. Joshua Anthony says:

    Embracing failures has gotten me this far. On more than one occasion it felt as if failure were a string of bad relationships. Leaving me empty, tired and generally numb inside.Got back up anyway and went at it once again.

    To be honest don’t know what I’d do if this lifes largest goals were achieved sooner than later. Seems like some of them have literally kept me going for years! Striving for more. Almost feel as if accomplishing those goals in particular would leave some type of void.

    An “oh no! now what?” sort of feeling.

    They keep one dreaming and in pursuit. Good stuff.

    While the others , the more realistic and obtainable goals, satisfy ones need to achieve and succeed.

    As they say if you cant find something to live for? Find something to die for! I prefer having something to live for.

    • Joshua, your mindset is an excellent one to have. The key in life, really, is to just keep getting back up when you get beat down. And you know, I truly agree with you. We need to live for things, not die for them. Especially not beliefs. I would never die for things so simple and potentially narrow.

      Anyhow, thanks for your comment. It’s sincerely appreciated!

  11. Thanks for this encouraging advice. My confidence as a writer is very fragile. It is so easy to get discouraged after a rejected guest post or not getting the client.

    The important thing to remember is: Never Give Up!

    • I’m glad that this post has impacted you positively. As an aside, thank you as well for your follow on Twitter, and please know that I sincerely appreciate your engagement with this post!

  12. James,

    It is truly refreshing to have read your article. I loved the fact that your can say how your not afraid to fail. I think that’s the only way to become an expert in whatever you do. I believe like you, that so many people never reach their true potential for that very reason…they are afraid to fail BRAVO!! You inspire me, thanks for the blog.

    • Hi Sarah! Thanks for your comment. This is Bea (who wrote the post, though I thank James for accepting it to be posted here).

      I’m very glad that I inspired you to embrace failure a bit more, and I agree with the need to fail a lot on the road to expertise. True potential is littered with a lot of setbacks, and the ones who succeed are the ones who keep chugging on despite everything.

  13. WOW! The first word came to my mouth when I read this post. I’m literally shocked to know that you are just 17 & your writing seems to be so mature that it looks like some person beyond 30 has written this post. Also you are publishing a novel. I doubt I heard any person being so young launched a novel. All the very best for it!

    And yes after going through your post I can say that “failure leads to success” & I’ve been & still failing at each & every step. But for me it’s reverse, even after failing so many times I’m still not getting success & again failing which irritates me sometimes & force me to give up. I hope I could learn something from you.

    Thanks Bea :)

    • Thanks so much for this comment, and please know that I appreciate it.

      First off, as to the age surprise, I get it a lot. It always makes me smile, and I’m always honored when people think I’m mature. I don’t really aim for being literally old, and I aim for maturity, not just to have another year under my belt. Thanks also for your best wishes with my novel!

      As for your thoughts on the post, I’m glad you agree. I’m a bit troubled by our current culture’s emphasis on success, so I like failure as an alternative viewpoint. For me, failure has been an excellent frame of reference to learn from.

      When it comes to your own failures though, it might be helpful to analyze the reasons behind the failures, in addition to the usual advice of not giving up. I really think that to fail productively, we need to reflect quite a bit on why we fail in the first place.

      After all, failure is useless if it doesn’t prompt you to revise your course, right?

      Best wishes to you, and you’re welcome!

  14. I think too often we evaluate our experiences in terms of success or failure. It’s very easy to forget that experiences teach us, and that in order to have teachable moments, we must experience instances of newness or unfamiliarity–and often those moments are, technically, failures. We learn only when we push beyond what we know. We learn even more from changing an assumption which we held prior to the experience. Experience is learning, and failure is the largest measure of new knowledge available to us. Cheers to failure, to learning, to growing–it’s what life is all about.

    • I love the insight from your comment. It’s incredibly true that teachable experiences are often technically failures. And while lessons can come from success, it’s often the failures which carry the most lessons. Also, love your line – failure is the largest measure of new knowledge available to us. It’s very true!

      Cheers and thanks for your input!

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