Never Fear, Failure is HERE!

fearfailureLast week, while walking on the boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach, I saw a shirt that gave me pause. It said, “Fear Failure.”

Fear Failure? Yep. Apparently it’s an Adidas campaign. It puzzled me about as much as did the word “Adidas” when it started appearing on peoples’ shirts. I thought it meant something. (It’s just a portmanteau of the company founder’s name, Adolf Dassler.)

Sorry, Adidas, but… Fear Failure? I consider that an asinine — and particularly American — sentiment, ironic that the shirt is marketed by a German company. Doubly ironic, because the young gentleman wearing the shirt was clearly Asian, and was speaking a non-English language to his friend as they passed. The shirt was bright green and yellow, as I recall, and I assumed from the font and design that it was geared toward athletes of some stripe — possibly even surfers. Though why surfers should fear failure I’ll never know.

But, unless it’s intended to suggest that the person wearing the shirt is a “Fear Failure,” meaning he has failed at the art of experiencing fear, then the sentiment is asinine. And, again, uniquely American.

Why asinine? Because to fear failure is to fear learning. We learn best through our mistakes. We can learn some things without making them, true; but I learned more about driving by plowing a car into a tree than I ever learned in Driver’s Ed. You can memorize that you’re not supposed to pour water into an acid without actually doing so, but you’ll never forget the lesson if you’ve actually poured water into an acid.

So, while there are some mistakes it’s dangerous to make — pouring water into acid and driving a car into a tree being two of them, and I recommend neither — mistakes are still educational as hell. And, ultimately, we cannot learn all we need to learn without making at least a few of them. So fearing failure, which leads to a fear of ever being wrong, is an anti-educational, ultimately anti-success, philosophy.

Why “uniquely American?” Because America runs on ridicule. This is particularly evident in American public education, but also in American politics. In education, fear of failure manifests itself in children being afraid to answer questions asked out loud in class, having test anxiety, and getting mad and giving up because they feel the teacher thinks they’re stupid. Americans hate failure, even the whiff of it. And despite every teacher’s valiant attempts to stop it, kids who make mistakes in public or in the classroom are made to feel completely stupid by their peers. Just like, despite the best efforts of a sane few to make political decisions based on issues, we take most of our advice from comedians who probably flunked both history and government and politics in school, because we like how those comedians make powerful people look stupid. And we aware victory in all debates to the candidate who produces the best quip.

Here’s the thing, though. The people who make fun of you when you get something wrong? You’re braver than they are. You took the chance of being wrong. They never would. They’re terrified of failure. That’s why they make fun of you when you’re wrong, so that they can distance themselves as much as possible from the dreaded failure.

william-shatner_240Me, I will quote once again the great William Shatner: “Never be afraid to make an ass of yourself. I do it all the time.”

It’s the only way you learn. If you were perfect, you wouldn’t need to learn. You’re not perfect, so you must learn. You can’t do it if you’re afraid to ever fail. The only way to avoid failing is to avoid trying. Which also means you’ll never succeed.

Avoid failure when possible. Embrace it when it comes. Own it. Make it your bitch.

Never, ever fear it.

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