Why It’s Okay to Fail (And Learn from It)

Omer Goldberg burned his first startup to the ground. 12 months later, his new startup Mindflow.ai graduated from Y Combinator’s startup school and is approaching its alpha release. Recently, Omer shared the story of his first startup—the trials and tribulations of creating a business out of an idea, and his eventual acceptance that failure is okay as long as you learn from it.

We put too much pressure on ourselves to get it right the first time. Whether you’re opening a new startup or starting a new job, it’s inevitable that many mistakes are going to be made along the way. No one starts out an expert at anything. What separates the best is the ability to accept failure, to learn, and to adapt.

Surprisingly, the hardest part of that process for many people can simply be accepting the failure. But there’s a good reason for that. Failure is scary. We are conditioned very early on to do everything we can to avoid failure and we are taught largely that it is a terrible thing.

Failure can be discouraging. It can make you lose confidence in your ideas and yourself. It can stop you from believing that you have the ability and potential to build something successful.

But it’s all bull shit. Failure is only a bad thing because people say that it is. We can stop telling ourselves that failure is the end all, be all whenever we want. It’s what the greatest innovators in every age did. They rejected failure and they kept trying. 

No matter how talented you are and no matter how good your idea may be, failure is an inevitably at some point unless you are the luckiest person alive. We are only doing harm to ourselves when we fear it because in truth, failure is the only way that we can learn and improve. 

Omer had no idea how to run a startup and build a product that people wanted, but that didn’t stop him from trying. His business failed, but that didn’t stop him from trying again. It’s not easy to get out there and fail, but it’s a lot harder to take anything away from the experience. 

It’s much easier to lash out and blame others for any stumbles on the road. It can really hurt to be genuinely self-critical, but it’s one of the most productive things that we can do. Recognizing where we went wrong and taking the time to correct that mistake is essential to any kind of progress — and it is perhaps the most important attribute of success.

But it’s also possible to take it too far. Too much self-criticism translates to self-doubt and the same kind of paralyzing effect of a fear of failure. You can be critical without being overly hard on yourself. It’s a waste of time beating yourself up over mistakes. Simply acknowledge them and keep moving. 

Letting go of that fear of failure and all that conditioning is the first step. It’s something that’s a lot easier to say than it is to do. There is no small amount of societal conditioning out there that gives us every reason to fear failure — may it be financial uncertainty or social judgement. We’re very rarely given the space to go out and try to accomplish whatever we want without fear of the consequences.

But it’s a much rarer thing to succeed. At some point, it will become clear that you’re better off making the leap than treading water. We only have so much time to make our mark in this world. You may stumble and you may fall, but that’s okay. You can always get back up. 

That’s what Omer did. His first foray as a startup burned to ashes, but he rose up and tried again. Now, he’s on the path that he’s always wanted because he took the time to learn from every single mistake. There’s no reason why you can’t do the same.

— ZK

Ed Lynes13p5Comment