Last week I was honored by the graduating seniors at my school, who asked me to deliver the graduation address. I surveyed educators up and down the hierarchy, and everyone told me the same thing: Be brief.
I was. And rather than just telling everyone to follow their dreams, and change the world, and zzzzzzzzzzzzz, I gave the kids the advice I NEVER EVER got–it’s good to fail.
Below is the text from that speech, with advice I wish I’d gotten somewhere from someone.
It’s an honor to be speaking in front of you today. I promise I’ll be brief.
I’d like to talk about a very important skill that many of you—despite your amazing education—did not pick up at all.
You will need this skill to get you through college, through your first and all subsequent jobs, through all of the highs and especially the lows.
Especially the lows.
This skill is…………..failing.
Now, I’m not talking about failing like disappointing your parents or intentionally failing a test or getting kicked out of college or being evicted for non-payment of rent.
No, I’m talking about the kind of failing that comes with lessons yet to be learned. I am talking about failing forward.
Failing forward requires you to do the thing that scares you most:
Enter that contest.
Audition for that role.
Try out for that team.
Send in that resume.
Sign up for that dance class.
Enroll in that art class.
Because when you do something you’re not good at, when you take risks and earnestly try something new or something familiar but challenging, what’s the worst that can happen? You might embarrass yourself. Because when you fail, you’re either going to embarrass yourself in front of complete strangers or people who love you. And the people who love you will support you and encourage you, no matter how many times you fail.
Failing forward means learning what you can from an experience that didn’t work out as you planned and moving forward. The process looks something like this: Fail, mourn the failure, reflect, and plan your next moves. Fail not because you were unprepared or uncaring or unmotivated.
Fail because you are passionate, prepared, motivated, and ambitious. Fail because you put everything you had into it and still failed.
So you fail.
What do you do?
Do you crawl under that snuggie with a pint of chocolate ice cream and watch a marathon of reality TV?
Do you cry on the shoulder of your best friend, relaying every moment by moment, every excruciating second of that audition or competition?
Do you tell your parents, “I don’t want to talk about it and turn up the heavy metal”?
The answer to all of these questions is YES. YES. Mourn the failure.
And then what do you do? Never submit another essay or audition for another role or take another class outside your major? If you retreat back to where you’re comfortable and never leave the box of contented competence, then you have not failed forward, you have given up.
If you decide instead to fail forward, you will take the feedback, the lessons, the reflection time and most important, the bigger picture and move, onwards and upwards. Only then will you have successfully failed forward.
I will leave you today with some pearls of wisdom from one of the most successful failures of all time: Thomas Edison, the light bulb guy.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
“I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”
“Many of life’s failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
Thanks for listening, and congratulations to (names deleted).