When I was a child, my parents often repeated to me “You must work hard at school if you want a great future” or “With good grades, you will have a good job.” But now that I am an adult, I can’t help but think they should have pushed me to do well in other aspects, such as learning to fail properly, rather than getting good grades.
I was good enough to do long studies and get a Master of Engineering in electronics. Then, I worked as an engineer in many big companies in the automotive industry, designing electric vehicles. Later, as I got bored in my job, I decided to do an MBA, thinking it would open many exciting careers.
It did so. But not as much I expected. At least, not as much as if I had tried and failed repeatedly, but learn from these failures. Here is why I think learning to fail is probably a better choice for your career than focusing on your grades.
Why learning to fail works?
First of all, an MBA is not cheap at all. So, of course, it is advertised as a one-way ticket to career heights. But it is not. It certainly helps you open many doors. But these doors open not because you have learned many business-related things to get your MBA. Instead, they open because you are part of a community: the community of your university alumni.
The cost of an MBA, like the cost of most studies, is directly correlated to the reputation of the educational institution. So, to simplify, the more famous it is, the more expensive it is. As for the content, theoretically, you can get most (if not all) of it for free, on the Internet or at your public library.
Of course, things are a bit more complex. You can get almost everything for free, but you need to know where to look for the information. Or you can go to public institutions and get access to it too. Maybe the professors won’t be as good as in a more prestigious college. But that is not the point here. You have all the resources to have a great future or a job with just Internet access.
There are so many examples of successful people who dropped out of school. Some of them are Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg. All these people share other characteristics common in successful people, such as perseverance and the ability to learn from their failures. Yes, learning to fail was a key element of their success. In other words, try, fail, learn from that failure and try again proved to be more effective than any course delivered by the best universities. Interesting.
Why learning to fail is so unpopular?
As for me, I left my job a year ago to start my own company (which was a choice few of my friends or family understood, imagine, why quit a well-paid job for a non-paid job!). However, I quickly realized on this occasion that everything I learned in my studies was useless to create my startup: nothing about digital marketing, SEO, fundraising campaign, corporate law, machine learning algorithm, mobile app development, etc.
No university in the world teaches you how to run a startup, except the school of life, where you continuously try, fail, and improve until you succeed. I lost count of the number of failures I experienced since I started. But, I probably learned more in that period than in my whole career, especially a particular skill: learning to fail productively. In other words, by failing a lot, you can learn a lot, if you manage to .
Unfortunately, such a practice is not popular with most people since it is associated with risk, the risk of failing. Failure and success are antinomic in our society: you have either one or the other, but you can’t have both. Hence, from our childhood, we are conditioned to avoid failure by getting the best possible grades. With those who fail pointed at.
However, this is a paradox; people considered highly successful are called geniuses or role models. My parents told me often, “Look at this guy. He is rich because he worked very hard at school, do like him.” So there are two things to say about that, about our relationship to success and failure.
Our relationship to success
First, we don’t all have a “success” exact definition. For some, success means a crazy amount of money, while for others, it is having the perfect balance between work and family. Or just doing something you are genuinely passionate about. Or a mix of these or other criteria. It doesn’t matter.
Even if parents want the best for their children, they should not project their definition of success onto them and tell them what to do to reach it, just like my parents did. That is the best way to end up on a career path where you don’t feel comfortable. The ongoing Great Resignation concerns mainly Generation Z and millennials, who seem to be in careers no longer aligned with who they are or what they believe in.
Our relationship to failure
The second point is our relationship to failure. Unfortunately, too many people or institutions tend to exclude those who don’t fit their definition of success. Thus, they contribute to a world where only those like them are accepted. Yet history has repeatedly shown that surrounding yourself with like-minded people often leads to disaster, the opposite of success. We see it now, unfortunately, in the Russian war on Ukraine.
The good news is that all is not lost. People who think outside the box are no longer condemned to be singled out. Social media have contributed a lot to this, for better or worse. It is easier to connect with other people who failed, learn from their experiences and get their advice on what to do next.
Last but not least, no matter how you fail or how often, the most important thing is to get up and learn from your failure. For some people like Jeff Bezos or Jack Ma, failure is an essential tool to achieve success. It allows you to know what works and does not and take appropriate actions.
- Your definition of success is unique. It is not necessarily linked to good grades at school. Don’t try to copy other people’s success; establish your own. It will be your North Star in your career plan
- Do not fear failure; consider it instead as a way to accelerate the learning of skills that could be crucial to your career
- Learn from your failures. You will learn much more from failing after trying than what you could learn in an academic environment by doing this.
I would end this article by suggesting you appropriate this motto from the Shadoks, an old French cartoon:
“When one tries continuously, one ends up succeeding. Thus, the more one fails, the greater the chance that it will work.”