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  • Writer's pictureManan

A Guide to Failure

Dear Friends,

I wish someone told me this 10 years ago when I was just graduating with my bachelor. I wish there were seminars, books, and training courses on dealing with rejection. I wish there were special events where people shared their 'failure stories'.

Dealing with failure is such an important part of any person's life. If you think about it, the majority of our life is spent dealing with failures. We rarely get something on the first try.

What is failure? Failure is not when you half-heartedly applied for a job/scholarship and nobody replied. Failure is when you are at the end of your wits and you have no idea what to do next. Imagine being in an unfamiliar house, alone, and then suddenly power goes out, it is pitch dark, you have no idea where you are and you have no idea where to go. This is what real failure looks like.

Everyone sees failure, everyone witnesses such moments. If by any miracle you are have not seen such failures then there are two possibilities: Either you are incredibly lucky, which is nearly impossible. Or you are not aiming high enough, you are playing safe, in this case, you have failed by default already.

So now we know what is failure, then the biggest question here is how do we deal with it?

There are three possibilities when you suffer from failure:

  1. You are not the right person for the position that you are aiming for.

  2. You are the right person but you are not putting in the effort.

  3. You are the right person, you are putting in your full effort but it is not in your naseeb*.

All the conventional advice on failure focuses on point no.2. The common advice says that you just need to keep going, just focus on your passion, just one more step. Edison failed 1000 times before he perfected the bulb, Dyson made 5126 prototypes before he finalized his bag-less vacuum design. We listen to these examples and curse ourselves, maybe we are not putting in the effort, maybe if we spent 12 hours instead of 8, that would make a difference. Maybe we should keep our head down and keep grinding...

Practice makes perfect, but wrong practice only gives wrong results.

You may be working on the wrong thing because you have the wrong idea of success in your head. It is possible that the idea of success was programmed in you from an early age by your environment and your society. Maybe what you are pursuing is not you, it's not suited for you or your personality. You are pursuing something for which you are a wrong fit.

Growing up in the 90s the idea of success for Pakistani children was becoming an Engineer or a doctor. An entire generation of Pakistani kids was programmed to believe that being a doctor or engineer was the best possible profession. (And it was for good reasons at the time). I was one of such kids, I believed that becoming an engineer or a doctor was the best possible way to be successful. So I did become an Engineer. It was during engineering when I found that I was not able to understand analytical concepts as easily as my other friends. But I still kept on going as much as I could.

It was during my first job as an engineer where I finally realized that I was not a natural at being an engineer. I saw my colleagues who were natural at it. They could talk about engineering problems, figure out solutions whereas I was trailing behind trying to catch up with them. The way they worked felt like a fish in the water. Effortless and enjoyable.

That's when I realized I want to be like a fish in the water. I want to choose what I am natural at.

Accepting your weakest areas is a blessing because when you do that you automatically start to find out what you are good at. Even if you don't know, your colleagues and peers start to see that and they ask for your help in those areas.

For me that area was communication. It was taking complicated ideas, thoughts, and queries and them putting them in words. I was a natural at it. It didn't seem anything special to me. To me it was effortless and therefore it seemed that anyone anywhere can do it. But that was not true. I would be asked several times by my managers and colleagues in drafting a particular tricky email or phone communication. Most of all, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed taking complicated ideas and putting them in words or explaining them to others.

The reason why I explained all this is that we are born with different talents and natural abilities. We have different IQs. It is useless to excel in a field where you are not natural and don't feel you are enjoying it.

So to summarise, this is what you should be feeling internally when you are doing something that aligns with you:

  1. You do not feel it's a special talent because it comes naturally to you. However, when others see you working they tell you that it is not normal. It doesn't seem like work to you. It just flows through you like water.

  2. You enjoy the process, no matter what the outcome you really enjoy doing it. A true blood entrepreneur gets a thrill every time there is a new business idea in his mind, he gets a kick every time there is a roadblock, the hustle, and the grind motivates him. A natural Engineer enjoys the problem, formulating complex equations. Analytical thinking does not bore him.

How do we find what we are natural at? We continuously explore, take risks, and then take feedback. We push our limits and risk failure.

So failure is an essential part of failing less. But we learn from that experience. Did we enjoy it? did it feel right to us?

When we find what we are a natural at then the reason no. 2 is eliminated. Because whatever we do it feels like play to us. We are not afraid of working. In fact, it does not even feel like work to us. We can spend hours, days just happily working on that thing.

This brings us to reason no.3 for failure: Maybe we are a natural at something, maybe we are even working as hard as we can, but we are still not getting it. Why does it happen? Maybe it is not in our naseeb. It is not destined for us.

It took me a very long time to understand this, but let me explain with an example.

When I was 15 I started memorizing the Quran. It took me 3 years of continuous studying and I was able to accomplish that. During my time I saw several students, who were diligent, intelligent and hardworking. Their parents came with the most sincere and deep-seated desire so their child can become a Hafiz-e-Quran, they would hire the best teachers, create the most positive environment for their kid. The kid himself would work hard. Studying day and night. But it wouldn't work. They wouldn't be able to do it. Everything on paper would say otherwise. But still, they couldn't. And no matter how much they tried to force it, it wouldn't work. They would fail again and again.

To this day I do not think it was a lack of intention, or hard work. God didn't love them any less than He loved me. It just wasn't destined for them.

It simply wasn't meant to be.

That realization is the hardest to stomach. Because there are no apparent reasons for our failure. We always want to know reasons, but there are places where logic cannot go, and that's where faith comes in. Faith and belief that we did our best, but it wasn't meant to be.

Failure is an essential part of life, but perhaps even more important is failing at the right thing.

I hope you learned something important from this guide. Please comment and let me know what topics should I cover.

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