Stop Thinking About Failure. It Doesn’t Exist

“Not doing because of your fear to fail is the failure in of itself.”

On December 9th 2020, Starship SN8 “successfully ascended, transitioned propellant, and performed its landing flip maneuver with precise flap control to reach its landing point. Low pressure in the fuel header tank during the landing burn led to high touchdown velocity resulting in a hard (and exciting!) landing” according to SpaceX.

Here’s what Elon Musk tweeted:

Elon framed this a success. An exploding rocket doesn’t seem like a success to me. Definitely not something to celebrate. It made me think, what would Elon and other people working toward innovation consider a true failure?

Elon Musk declares SpaceX Starship test a success despite massive explosion on landing

As one does, I indulged myself in the youtube comments of the livestream and found this.

I think it perfectly encapsulates why this was a success.

This wasn’t a project to prove their success to anyone. They only spent time, energy, and resources to move forward. They didn’t do this to validate themselves or surpass their own expectation. They separated themselves from their own ideal to simply move forward.

“If you’re not failing, you’re not innovating enough”

— Elon Musk

Failure comes in different forms. You can bomb an interview, fall off your bike, or literally fail a test. But are those actually failures?

I’m going to convince you of something.

Failure doesn’t exist. (it’s a hoax!)
Well, your version of “a complete waste of time/energy/resources” type of failure doesn’t exist.

Take the SpaceX High Altitude test for example. Yes, I understand comparing yourself to the now richest man on Earth won’t make you more like him, but the rudimentary principle is so crucial.

If you’re doing everything perfectly, you’re not under enough pressure and you need to change your environment ASAP. No matter how much time you spend learning about something, the fact of the matter is you’re going to have to apply it eventually. You won’t be able to gauge your knowledge on something unless you build something.

Going by this logic, no matter what you do, as long as you’re doing something, counts as a success. Even the itty bitty hurdles (aka my almost-concussion I’ll get into later) along the way.

Doing ≠ Failure
Not Doing = Failure

Not doing because of your fear to fail is the failure in of itself.

Often times, when starting a new project or venturing into a new space, we tend to feel eager and excited. But that results in expectations. And an ideal. And us picturing yourself being there. We rarely ever imagine the work it takes. And the time. And the mental energy. Us humans are such optimistic dreamers we kinda overshoot and never really harness our own potential. But the fact of the matter is, the more time you imagine yourself doing something, the less time you spend actually doing it…

(Que 2 year long story about me and my skateboard)

Ever since I was 13, I wanted to learn how to skate. Skating is expensive, so for years, I consumed countless Thrasher, Illegal Civ, Braille, Skate Kitchen and Luis Mora content. I knew what trucks I wanted to get, and shoes too. In 10th grade, I finally got my Element deck and started off in my basement.

That was when the shock came.
Skating is so.

So I gave up. Up till now, I can somewhat pop the board and ride pretty smoothly. From 2 years ago until now, I was TERRIFIED of failing. After the years of idealizing and dreaming, I had a solid image of what skater me looked like. What I should be. The dream and the reality didn’t match up AT ALL it’s honestly funny.

I couldn’t get past the mental barrier of committing to a certain trick or a movement. Confronting this was so challenging, I still haven’t been able to commit fully. Skateboarding has taught me a lot about mental barriers. Will write an article on that specifically quite soon.

To cut to the chase, I really dreamt of skating for years and finally had the resources and the time. I couldn’t bring myself to get past my fear of failing at it. So I didn’t do anything. We can’t let this irrational fear consume us. I went from “Oh my God I don’t want to fall” to “Pain is mental discomfort. All or nothing. I AM IMMORTAL”. Just kidding - I basically always prayed before I did something risky.

I’m still working through it, but that all or nothing mentality got me my first solid injury. I was skating down a pretty steep bank but foot placement and balance was off, so I slammed on the ground, got road rash, hit my head (I’ve been wearing a helmet since!), and couldn’t walk properly for 3 weeks.

Pop quiz — is this a failure? By now you should know that the answer is no. I was finally progressing. I went from doing nothing (aka failing) to falling (aka success in the making)

This was an example in athletics. Try and apply the same story to the startup/hustle/growth-mindset world.

We have been blinded by our own expectations to actually follow through. It creates a negative feedback loop where we start to feel so guilty that we end up comparing ourselves to others. That leads to getting jealous over someone else’s success and that’s not fun for anyone.

You need to remove your true self from the ideal in order to make progress anywhere. The ideal will lead to failure — and I’m sorry, the ideal just won’t ever exist.

After reading through, you’re probably wondering:
“Is Emaan comfortable not-progressing or does she just frame every failure as a success?”

I think that really attributes to my overthinking brain meshed with my impulsive, go-getter personality. When I overthink, that’s when the idealization comes in. The known, all too well, I’m going to do xyz and absolutely crush it. But at the same time, I love to aim high. I’ve realized that most of my “aiming” comes out of inspiration as opposed to rational, intrinsic motivation. That’s exactly why the fear to fail comes in.

The first part

I like the comfort of just learning for the sake of learning. Learning cool facts about how epinephrine from our adrenal medulla gland can trigger the production of 1 million glucose molecules is super cool. But have I done anything with that information? Well, I have now because I’m putting in in this article lol. To combat this, I’m seriously writing 52 articles this year. One per week. It was an impulse decision (so there is zero “ideal” yet) and this is the article for Week 1.

Now for the second part

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m optimistic or because I believe in fate, but usually, if things don’t work out my way it was for a reason.

Haha it’s important to not let your ego get tied into that though. Imagine if a person were to accredit their “failures” to God or fate or the universe — but accredit their successes to their own dedication. Hey, if that thinking works, go for it. But that might just end up in one huge epic fail. Ego isn’t fun either. We don’t like things that aren’t fun :(

Stoicism taught me that I can’t really control all the external variables that I want, but extreme ownership is what has helped me take control of what I can. Take failing a test; you study but something comes up, or you don’t study at all. The first reason gives you an excuse but the second… How can you fail (or succeed for that matter) on something you don’t put effort in? Failure hits hard when you work harder. That’s how you take that failure and reevaluate what went wrong. And hey, it’s one small bump in the yellow brick road getting back to Kansas. Trying means progressing. If there’s one thing you can take away from this is to actually get up and do stuff.
Thinking about doing it isn’t doing it!!

All in all,
Don’t doubt yourself!
Be confident in your successes
It’s not like your ever gonna fail…
and if you’re not convinced by now
At least you’ll take those “failures” like a champ.

And that concludes my PSA on why you should wear a helmet.

physics student @uoftoronto