The Elegance Of Failure

The following is a guest post from Neal Frankle at Wealth Pilgrim.  Neal is a dedicated father, insightful financial adviser, and honorable Yakezie Challenger who always writes with a breath of fresh air.  You can join his 2,500+ followers on Twitter @NealFrankle.  Enjoy!

Failure is not only a necessary part of life, it can be a beautiful part of life.

This may sound like crazy talk.

After all, if you are a hardworking person, you work hard because you want to succeed, not fail.

And failure stings.

It hurts.

Man….it hurts.

That pain is real….but despite that temporary pain, those set backs are likely key ingredients to your future success. And the success I’m talking about dwarfs financial or career gains.

Let me explain by telling you about an experience I had several years ago.

BACK IN THE MOTHERLAND

When I was in my 20’s, I started a Masters program at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. My goal was to study in Hebrew with the local students and complete the degree.

This isn’t such a lofty goal in and of itself, but when you consider that I didn’t speak a word of Hebrew 9 months prior to my enrollment, I think you’ll agree that it was quite a challenge – if not insane.

I studied as hard as I could.  I worked night and day using every opportunity I could to improve my language skills.

Sure enough my hard work paid off – sort of.

Within 9 months I passed the entrance exam and was admitted to the Hebrew University’s Masters Program for Political Science. My language level tested out as fluent.

And that’s when my problems started.

While my conversational ability was pretty good, I couldn’t understand a word my professors were saying from day 1.  I mean not one meshugunah word.

I doubled my studying and put everything I had into it… but it was no use. I didn’t have the skill or ability to learn as quickly as I was required to.

Within 3 weeks, I dropped out and returned to America.

I felt like a complete failure.

It took me years to let go of that experience.

IN AMERICA WHERE MY BUSINESS GROWS

When I came back, I focused all my energy on starting a business and this time, the universe said “YES”. I was fortunate enough to build a very successful business from ground up.

You could say that the door had to close on my Hebrew Political Science dreams in order for the door to open for my business aspirations.

That’s true of course. But had I just stopped there I would have missed a gift far more valuable.

You see, I felt like a loser when I didn’t make it in Israel because I confused having limited skills (in this case, language skills) with being defective myself. Then I felt like a winner as my business grew.

My emotional peace of mind was completely tied and dependent upon my success or failure.

For me, that’ s no way to live.

The elegance is seeing that your success or failure in an endeavor, doesn’t say anything about you as a person. I have limited skills – we all do. So what?

It doesn’t mean you are flawed as a person.

You can apply this lesson if you have financial stress, problems in your career or trouble at home.

If something doesn’t work out, it’s just the universe’s way of telling you to try something different. It’s not a statement about my value as a human being.

There’s a lot of freedom in that. At least I believe there is.

Understanding this makes it easier for me to be objective about how I spend my time. I have less invested in the outcome. All I have to do is my best and let the result go. And if I do my best, what more can I do? In fact, if I have done my best, what right do I have the right to beat myself up?

Please don’t get me wrong. I still believe it’s important to do the best I can. Put everything I have into it. But when things don’t work out, I don’t want to repeat the mistake I made all those years ago. I hope you feel the same way.

CONCLUSION

Don’t let your outcomes define you. It’s unhelpful and it’s untrue. Failure is elegant because it provides a lesson in self that no other classroom or experience provides. It allows us to value ourselves separate and apart from what we can and can’t do.

Readers, what are some of your life failures?  Was there ever a case where you were better off failing, than succeeding?  Are you afraid of failure?

Keiju,

Sam @ Financial Samurai – “Slicing Through Money’s Mysteries”

Follow on Twitter @FinancialSamura and subscribe to our RSS or E-mail feed.

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. Random Thoughts of a Jersey Mom says

    When you fall off a horse, you have to get right back on it. I like how you were able to stand back up and build a successful business. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  2. Money Funk says

    After tending to a bruised ego due from a failure, I dust my self off and tell myself the same thing (everytime), “If something doesn’t work out, it’s just the universe’s way of telling you to try something different. ” Either try it a different way or try something else entirely. Nice job, Neal!

  3. Simple in France says

    You make a very interesting point about failure being due to limited skills. Very common sense yet almost never said. I’ve noticed also that the tendency to relate failure and success to a a failure of personal worth is more common in the US than other places . . .so it’s interesting to hear your story from the perspective of someone from another country (whose culture I’m not too familiar with).

  4. says

    you would think that the number of times that i have failed, i would have gotten used to the pain but i havent. i am entrepreneurial and i have failed in business more times than i can remember, loosing a bulk of cash in the process. even in the current business. failure has dogged me but i thank God for the resilience that forms and strengthens each time i fall and get back in the fight. i think that failure is necessary because of the all important wisdom that you get, not forgetting a thicker skin. it even feels better when sweet success comes. it is a feeling to live for :)

  5. Kristine says

    Great article! I have also heard that failure is just feedback for you to try something different. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s comforting to know how failure can be elegant…and how it can lead you down a path that is better for you!

  6. savvysavingbytes says

    I like how you so swiftly and completely cut yourself clean from that problem, realizing in three weeks that it was a no go and then immediately leaving the country for a fresh new beginning elsewhere.

    As Einstein said, “Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them”.

  7. Derek Clark says

    I like the quote from Edison about the lightbulb. Something along the lines of how did it feel to fail 10,000 times. He responded, I didn’t fail, I just figured out 10,000 ways how not to make a lightbulb. He kept going, and when he found the right combination success was probably that much sweeter.

    • says

      Derek, great story! It’s funny… b/c I would say many of us give up after 1 or 2 goes. If we all knew that it would take 10 tries to succeed, then we would. But, too many of us fail to keep on marching forward.
      .-= admin´s last blog ..The Art of The Interview =-.

  8. Rob Bennett says

    If we didn’t experience failure, we would continue confidently down the first path we chose in life.

    It could be that we were super-smart when we chose that first path.

    It could be otherwise.

    Failure is the mechanism by which God (or Evolution!) forces us to open ourselves to new paths.

    Rob

  9. 20smoney says

    Very interesting post! Thought provoking indeed.
    .-= 20smoney´s last blog ..Financial Plan Writing Contest Winner & My Plan =-.

  10. Jeff says

    Great Post Neil,

    I too have failed. I once had my dream job and had to throw in the towel because it wasn’t right for me, and I was no good at it. Failing has opened by eyes to other possibilities in life. It was the best thing that has happened to me.

    Thanks for sharing
    Jeff

  11. Joe Plemon says

    Great post Neal!
    My favorite sentence is “The elegance is seeing that your success or failure in an endeavor, doesn’t say anything about you as a person. I have limited skills – we all do. So what?”

    The almost hidden message here is that even our success in an endeavor doesn’t say anything about us as a person. What we do…successfully or with failure…is still what we do, not who we are.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  12. says

    Very impressive learning Hebrew and testing out as fluent in just nine months! I feel that everything happens for a reason. Obliviously in your case, you did not make it in Jerusalem, so you came back to the US where you started a very successful business. I’d say that’s a pretty good reason not to do well in school!

  13. Boris says

    Neal,
    Very true post. Failure brings us always a good lesson. Who feel as a winner when winning, will feel as a loser when losing. Losing and winning are just experiences that enrich our lives but don`t define us.
    All the best,
    Boris
    .-= Boris´s last blog ..Be creative, even if you are uncreative per nature! =-.

  14. LeanLifeCoach says

    Recently I failed big with a guest post on this authors blog… There is a good message in there but I need to learn how to correctly preset it. I feel bad for having failed on his turf but having failed only inspires me to try harder.

  15. says

    Neal,

    Thanks for sharing your story. I’ve always wondered what the definition of “fluent” means in a particular language. It is possible that most who say they are “fluent” really are just advanced? On my resume, I used the word “advanced” for my strongest language ability other than English, and then conversational for the other two.

    I realized back in high school that I wouldn’t become a professional tennis player, so I quite that route and focused on my studies instead. For some reason, I couldn’t switch grips quick enough to hit a consistent, solid, flat, or topsin backhand!

    Best, Sam
    .-= admin´s last blog ..The Mental To Physical Connection For A Healthier Lifestyle =-.

  16. Mike says

    Go Pilgrim!

    Reminds me of a great book called Failing Forward.

    Okay, I actually haven’t read the book but it seems appropriate to mention.
    When I first graduated from school, I didn’t receive a job offer from a company that I really wanted to work at.

    A few weeks later, I got a job offer from somewhere much better.

    Failing forward was the best thing that’s ever happened to my career.

  17. Neal @ WealthPilgrim.com says

    Thanks for all the bitchin’ comments. I really loved writing this for Sam-san.

    First, Greg …you are being WAY too hard on yourself. I thought your post was excellent and from a variety of perspectives, it was extremely successful. Comments on my blog have been way down and that’s my deal….not yours. So don’t beat yourself up…if anything, beat me up. I’ve decided to try to get more search traffic and that has changed things over at the Pilgrim coral. I think you did great.

    Now,…as far as failure goes….it’s tough because you don’t want to give up too soon but you don’t want to beat a dead horse either. I knew, in 3 weeks, my future in Jerusalem was over. I just knew it. But when i came back here, I worked really hard and knew I could succeed. Maybe it was all in my head in both cases but so what? As long as we all have a positive direction…right?

    I think Clint Eastwood said it well….” A man’s got to know his limitations…”

  18. Charlie says

    learning languages is hard. I’m always impressed with how so many Europeans can speak 2-3 languages. I agree failure is scary and it takes courage to get back up and keep going. It’s always great looking back and seeing what we’ve been able to overcome.

  19. Monevator says

    This is going to seem a bit of a tangent, but you should check out the British sport rugby (the forerunner to American Football).

    Every move ends in failure — getting squashed — effectively, except a winning score or occasionally a pass.

    I realized suddenly it was all about failing for the team. Perhaps not elegantly! ;)

  20. says

    That is a pretty cool story… At least you tried and that is that, no failure as far as I can see!

    I like ths saying “If at first you don’t suceed, try, try again” as it does not mention the word fail, which is ultimately a negative word. Not succeeding is not anything to be ashamed of and I love the fact that things worked out.

    I have endlessly not succeeded as planned but have almost always learned something from the situation that helped in a future success…. Life will never be linear and if it was it would be darn boring.

  21. Bytta @151 Days Off says

    What I find extremely elegant is your desire to take a postgraduate program (in Poli Sci nonetheless!) in a foreign country in a language you barely spoke (out on a whim?). How did you come to that decision? Did you just wake up and decide to do so?

  22. says

    Success has within it some failure markings. Those who had the most shots in life had the most misses. All what needs to be done is to be able to turn failure into fertiliser of success. Failure is not a result, never a destination but a positive feedback of where we went wrong. A break which let us star afresh more careful.

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