The Upside of Failure

One needs not indulge in the words of Thomas Edison or Bill Gates to confirm that failure is not the mutually exclusive opposite of success. Failure is very much part and parcel of success, just as crawling and falling are the first and necessary steps to walking. While it is an unfair blanket statement to say no success was ever achieved without prior failures, it is fair, and even conducive to understand that no failure stands without the inherent potential for learning and improvement.

Elizabeth Gilbert, a once unpublished author, in her TED talk viewable here, constructs an argument based off of personal experience that success and failure are concerns external to, and thus irrelevant to, true achievement. While she may agree that failure is the intuitive launchpad to great innovation—showing what works by revealing what doesn’t—she places real emphasis on intrinsic passion, arguing that the consequences of an action (such as critical opinion for a work of art) do not matter to an individual who is sure of his goal, something Gilbert calls a “home.”

Facing intimidating competition in the realm of publishing, specifically from the recent release of “Eat, Pray, Love” in spite of its unfavorable succès d’estime, Gilbert considered giving up, dropping out of the race to moving to the country to pursue a different career path. For the first six years of her dedication to publishing a novel of which she was proud, she was rejected without pause. What kept her going was her belief. After being rejected, Gilbert always returned back to writing. She explains “I loved writing more than I hated failing at writing, which is to say that I loved writing more than I loved my own ego, which is ultimately to say that I loved writing more than I loved myself.” She later adds that writing is her “home,” or her sense of self. She adds “your home is that thing to which you can dedicate your energies with such singular devotion that the ultimate results become inconsequential.”

After watching “Eat, Pray, Love” Gilbert said she found herself associating with the failing artist. She says this resonance is what showed her the connection between “great failure and the way we experience great success.” In her own words, “Failure catapults you abruptly… into the blinding darkness of disappointment.” “Success,” she adds, “catapults you just as abruptly…into the equaling blinding glare of fame and recognition and praise.” What she argues is the importance of either’s influence on the subconscious. Both failure and success are external evaluations of more personal, internalized goals.Gilbert realized, a true passion remains untouched by opinions and critique—good and bad. After her first book was published, and failed, Gilbert was relieved by an unexpected feeling; she felt “bulletproof.” She felt what anybody feels after completing a task that once seemed impossible. She grew stronger than her obstacles, she grew past her defeats, and she broke through—now, able to call herself an author. What’s more is her initial success pushed her to continue writing, no longer fearful of extrinsic concerns such as failure or success. She writes for herself, and that is why she is successful.