Failure is a Leap of Faith

I hear a lot about the fear of failure, like it is a big thing…a taboo topic or a hidden disease. Failure is an integral part of learning, it is like breathing. Show me a person who has never failed and I will show you a person who never tried, succeeded or created change. Everyone fails. The question is really – did they learn from failure and how quickly were they able to recover – emotionally, mentally, physically, socially and financially.

A child learns through failure to test their boundaries. Boundaries made of their own capabilities and of their constraining environment. I was telling a friend about captive baby elephants. Baby elephants are chained and they learn no matter how much they pull their chains, even if their feet bleed, that they cannot escape the strength of those iron chains. Later, even when they grow up to be elephants weighing six tons, the trauma of their failure in childhood is so high, they refuse to pull their chains thinking it is futile. Hence they spend the rest of their lives in captivity. They failed because of the constraints in their mind. They had the capability. The  environment was no longer a barrier like in their childhood, but they still remained chained – prisoned by their mind.

So the first important lesson about failure is you fail only if you allow it to chain you to your past. To break free, you need to take the leap of faith. What is this leap of faith? The Collins dictionary defines it as a “belief in something uncertain”. To be successful, you have to visualize a goal and take the leap of faith that you will reach your goal, even if you don’t know exactly how. This takes great courage especially when you know the path is not going to be easy. Youth is lucky, they can take the leap of faith in blissful ignorance but the courage lies in getting up and trying again, knowing you failed your previous attempt. Wise people learn from their previous mistakes and modify their approach! This is symbolically depicted as a coming of age ritual for the Vanuatu tribe in the Pacific. Young men climb up 30 foot perches they build themselves and throw themselves over the edge held by the safety of vines they cut and tie on their ankles. These are public events so you do get over the fear of failure.

There is this debate, are entrepreneurs made or created. I do believe they are a product of their environment. If in their childhood they are discouraged from taking risks, they will grow up and do the same thing because they have lost their ability to take the leap of faith. They have lost their ability to believe in their own capabilities. They have learnt to stop taking responsibility for their actions and they blame their environment. Taking a leap of faith begins with the individual. Believing you can succeed – even when you have failed.

When you believe in yourself, you can disrupt a system and innovate! A wonderful must-read article is by Stuart Hart and Clay Christensen (2002). There are four billion people at the bottom of the pyramid. Our world is facing political unrest, there are health and pollution issues that are larger than the control of a few countries or a few people – we need more individuals who can take the leap of faith. Not just to change their lives but the lives of others to make this world a better place.


About Melodena

Professor of Innovation Management, Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government, Dubai, UAE. Passionate about Strategy, Branding, Entrepreneurship (especially social entrepreneurship), Place Marketing, and Crisis Management. Working to educate the world about MENA regional opportunities!
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