We’ve all heard the preachy platitude “Failure isn’t an option.” And, generally speaking, it’s not. At least not an option most would purposely choose. But failing is inevitable. Everyone eats humble pie in some way at some point, especially in the cutthroat startup race, where half of all of all new ventures crash and burn in five short years.
Licking your wounds and feeding your soul with a few wise, uplifting TED Talks is a great way to rebound from failure. We’ve selected five of the best on the topic to help you dust yourself off and try again. They explore how you can see your mistakes in a new, positive light, heal from them and even use them to fuel your next brave stab at success.
1. Kathryn Schulz: On Being Wrong
Kathryn Schulz, author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error (Ecco, 2011), thinks about making mistakes and being wrong for a living. She fancies herself a “wrongologist.” No joke. The longtime journalist and former Grist editor’s entertaining, erudite musings here explore why we should stop lambasting ourselves for our unavoidable fallibility and instead admit it, accept it and embrace it.
She says moments of surprise, reversal and wrongness are the very stuff of life. “This is life.” The bad news: We can’t escape our mistakes and failures. The good news: Owning up to them and coping with them forces us to come up with new ideas and strategies that just might work… or not. We’re pulling for the latter for you.
2. Larry Smith: Why You Will Fail to Have a Great
I’m not smart enough. I’m not lucky enough. I’m not obsessive enough. I’m not Steve Jobs. I’m a nice, normal person and I don’t have passion. Besides, I have kids and I’m too busy to be great.
These are but a sampling of the all too common fear-based crutches hard-talking Canadian economist Larry Smith says people use to talk themselves out of pursuing the career of their dreams. He says people often let fear of failure drive them to career failure. The irony.
In this intense talk, Smith goads us on to face our fears, to forget about failure and to pursue professional greatness on the “altar of achievement.”
He uses a sobering example of parent discouraging his young child from becoming a magician when he grows up. “I had a dream once, too, kid, but I was afraid to pursue it,” is probably what you’d tell your aspiring David Copperfield, he says. But you should be able to say “Go for it, kid. That’s what I did.”
The moral of Smith’s speech: Banish the terrifying what-ifs and never let fear hold you back from realizing your full potential.
3. Sarah Lewis: Embrace the Near Win
Hard truth: Not everything you do will be a masterpiece, especially when you’re first starting out.
In her eloquent speech, art historian and critic Sarah Lewis talks about the benefits of almost but not quite succeeding, which she calls the “near-win.” The Harvard grad and current Yale faculty member argues that our almost-failures are necessary, even crucial, steps along the way to success. Failing to reach your goal can actually sharpen your game plan and strengthen your resolve to go after it. Never give up.
Related: Before You Rush to Fail, Read This
“What gets us to forward thrust more is to value the near-win,” Lewis says. “A near-win gets us to focus on what right now we plan to do to address that mountain in our sights.”
4. Elizabeth Gilbert: Success, Failure and the Drive to
Elizabeth Gilbert knows a thing or two about failure. Publishers rejected the former diner waitress’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love (Penguin Books, 2007) for almost six years. Once the book finally broke through, it wasn’t long before Oprah -- and the rest of the world -- couldn’t stop talking about it. Then it was adapted for the big screen and became a global box office hit.
Gilbert had made it big. The pressure was on for a repeat. In her TED Talk, she says it was all too much. She considered quitting while she “was behind,” but she didn’t.
“I knew that the task was that I had to find some way to gin up the inspiration to write the next book, regardless of its inevitable negative outcome,” she says.
Gilbert did write that second book and it bombed. She had failed again, but didn't throw in the towel.
She describes how she found strength in identifying with her former unpublished, struggling aspiring writer self. In facing a new challenge, she did the same thing she did when she was a failure: She got her ass back to work, as she says.
“My point is that I'm writing another one now, and I'll write another book after that and another and another and another and many of them will fail, and some of them might succeed,” she says, “but I will always be safe from the random hurricanes of outcome as long as I never forget where I rightfully live.”
Her advice: No matter how many times you fall down, fight the urge to stay down. Get up. Again and again, get up.
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