Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about failure.
Most people would agree that failure is something they would like to avoid. It hurts, it’s frustrating and sometimes it’s hard to see beyond it.
But success is a numbers game. Think of it this way, if you’re looking for a new job, the chances of finding one are greater if you apply for 10 rather than just one.
I entered the Northern Writers’ Awards every year for the best part of a decade and didn’t get anywhere. Until one year, I won.
And I won with the same manuscript that hadn’t made the grade the previous year.
You’ve got to keep putting yourself out there in order to be successful.
And just because you’ve achieved something once, doesn’t mean you’re immune to failure in the future.
When your plan goes awry and you get a rejection or something doesn’t work out, take a break if you need to. Let yourself feel the hurt, but don’t dwell on it. Instead think about your next step.
Maybe you didn’t get that job because it wasn’t right for you. On the surface it may have looked amazing, but what if something better is out there? What if you need to experience the disappointment in order to really appreciate the opportunity when it comes around again?
I’ve failed a lot recently.
I’ve sent my novel out to various competitions, mentoring schemes and agents and got everything from rejections to complete silence in return. I’ve applied for jobs that I was desperately keen on, and those that I was mildly interested in, and been unsuccessful.
With the rejections piling up, it’s easy to feel like a failure.
I could allow myself to become despondent and become overwhelmed by the sense of rejection, of not being good enough. I could accept that I’m never going to be a writer and just stop.
But I’m not going to.
Earlier in the year, I went to a panel event for writers where a number of independent publishers spoke about their work.
One thing that stuck in my mind was something that one of the panellists said: “Many women give up trying to find an agent after one rejection.”
It’s easy to imagine. You spend so long building yourself up to that one moment, trying to achieve that one thing that is going to make you happy and successful. And when you don’t get it, the feeling is awful. You can’t imagine how you’ll get beyond it. You worry that everyone will feel the same way about you and your work, so what is the point in trying.
If you stop putting yourself out there and you don’t pursue your dreams, then yes, in a sense, you’re less likely to encounter failure. You won’t experience the small failures; those rejections that knock your confidence and make you feel like you aren’t enough.
But ultimately, if you don’t try to achieve the thing you want the most, then that’s a different kind of failure.
As J.K. Rowling said:
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”
So next time you’re worried that your application won’t get you that job, or you won’t get the funding, or win that competition, ask yourself: what’s the harm in trying?
By being brave and exposing yourself to potential rejection, you’re already ahead of the people who don’t even make the effort.
And take enough chances, eventually one of them will pay off.