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Why Millennials Need to Embrace Failure


Failure is (almost) always part of finding success.

We talk a lot about success on The Reply (in fact our last podcast is a great place to start that journey). We write about success because it’s fun to talk about and hopefully gets you inspired. But what about the other side, the part when things don’t go according to plan?

We’ve all read stories about how we need to embrace failure in order to succeed, but how much of it do we really take to heart, and how in the world can we be motivated by our defeats?

What happens when, despite your best efforts, you don’t hit your target, or reach your goal? Simply put, failure sounds harsh but it’s also a great way to learn.

The learning curve hasn’t changed

In order to become great at something, we have to learn how to do it. Often we are in such a rush to learn new things that we don’t think about the failures that might come along with the learning curve. Think back to when you learned to ride a bike or even drive, you probably weren’t great the first time out. It took a while – you learned how to ride a bike with training wheels or drove your car around an empty parking lot, but eventually you got better, even if you fell a few times (or hit the occasional curb!).

We are bombarded with messages about how to learn things quickly or how simple skills have become to learn, but guess what? Nothing is ever that easy. Everything has a learning curve and there will always be stumbling points. Failure is an inevitable part of learning a new skill.

The pace of change is accellerating

In the video above, educator Eddie Obeng argues that the world is changing at an accelerating pace because of how interconnected things have become. Change happens so fast, he says, there’s simply no way to clearly identify what is necessary to tackle the problems of tomorrow without some leaps in reason. That’s where his term ‘smart failure’ comes in.

Obeng is interested in applying the lessons from the past to solve the problems of the future. But because of how fast things change, we can’t always anticipate the future. So when trying to solve a problem, Obeng says that if you’re doing something that’s never been done before and you get it wrong, you should be treated differently – celebrated – not judged harshly, because it’s the only way we can really overtake the pace of change and come up with new ideas. In other words, there is no clear progress without smart failures.

Success usually takes more than one try

Very few people get it right on the first try (it’s just one of the reasons so many millennials change jobs more frequently than other generations). Things might not be how you imagined them, or you might be looking for a different kind of work. If things don’t go your way that’s OK, just be persistent.

Of course, this is more easily said than done. Sustained motivation and persistence can be tricky, especially when faced with failure, but remember, you’re always building your base of knowledge and eventually you’re going to break through.

On a personal note, as a writer, I understand that not everything I write is a huge hit, but I love the act of writing itself. I love creating something and seeing what I have written on the page. The times when someone identifies with what I have written and takes time to comment or let me know the article resonated with them simply reinforces the confidence I have in my path (despite the inevitable failures that come with the job!).

Bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert says in the face of failure, you need to find your way home (and she’s not talking about your parents’ house). She means that when faced with failure, you need to take refuge in the thing you love most – even more than yourself. Whether that’s creativity, invention, adventure, Gilbert says “home is that thing to which you can dedicate your energies with such singular devotion that the ultimate results become inconsequential.” And that little piece of wisdom might just be the best advice about failure anyone has ever given.

Have you ever failed big? How did you handle it at the time and how do you feel about it today? Share your stories in the comments. We always enjoy hearing from you!


Christopher is Co-Founder and Managing Editor at The Reply. He has a fondness for strong coffee, good books and foreign news services. When he was five years old his father helped him raise a family of chipmunks over the winter, you should ask him about it. Professionally, he’s spent time as a technology journalist, PR consultant, and freelance blogger. Christopher’s work has appeared in a lot of trade magazines you’ve probably never heard of and maybe some you have. He has a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Toronto and a certificate in Media Foundations from Humber College in Toronto.