Failing Forward & Fearing Mediocrity

The more people I serve, the more I see just how limiting self doubt can be. It amazes me how much the need for acceptance and belonging drives us to place extraordinary value on external relationships, material things, and arbitrary notions of success … at the expense of self acceptance and personal achievement.

In a 1995 interview with the Santa Clara Valley Historical Association, Steve Jobs said, “Everything around you, that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you.”

Take a moment to read the quote again.

You do not have to be from a specific family, gifted, brilliant, good looking, or lucky to generate meaningful value for the world, you simply need to choose to build something.

Just like you, people who choose to build something are concerned with being rejected, battle uncertainty, and struggle with vulnerability. The difference is that builders don’t allow their irrational emotions to prevent them from creating, generating value, and goal achievement. Of course you run the risk of creating something that fulfills your personal mission and having it judged negatively or not accepted by your stakeholders. But, if you don’t share your life’s mission and awesome ideas, then you’ll commit a far worse crime. You’ll reject yourself.

Don’t do that.

You have two choices. You can either absorb the minute risk of being judged, criticized, ridiculed, or laughed at because you generated thick value for others and built something that others are jealous of – or – be ignored because you didn’t share your greatness with the world inspiring, encouraging, and building others.

Your choice.

As you consider setting and achieving your goals, remember that failure is not –

  • Avoidable – you are human and all humans make mistakes. Failure is the fertilizer that converts adversity into success. It’s the price you pay to achieve success. After you’ve made mistakes and learned your lesson, you’ll change your behavior for the better.
  • An Event – failure is not a single, isolated event – it’s part of a much longer, multi-step process. Personal success is not a destination, it’s the journey you take, the things you learn, the experiences you have, and the people you inspire along the way. Don’t treat mistakes as final, life-altering events.
  • The Enemy – you can’t change your mistakes, but by keeping things in the context of achieving your life’s mission, you can avoid making the mistake repeatedly or letting it bring you down emotionally. Only you decide what failure is to you. No one else can do that for you.

Failing at something doesn’t make you a failure, it simply labels the action you took a mistake. Don’t blame yourself. See the action as a learning opportunity and take responsibility for your actions objectively. Although you may risk temporary embarrassment, there is no right time for anything, so take action on your inspirations quickly. By making mistakes and failing forward, you are making progress because you’re more resilient, willing to take calculated risks, and mature with experience.

The more you risk failure – and actually fail – the greater your chances of success.

If you fear mediocrity like me, recognize that your response to failure is what sets achievers apart from the mediocre. As Steve Jobs said, the achievers aren’t smarter than you. You need to choose to build something.