Learn to Fail

I think we should try to fail more often.

On the first day of my first year of university, Walmart had sold out of cable cords for TV, and that fundamentally changed my life. I know it seems like such a small thing—I could have taken the bus there the following week or borrowed one from a friend, but I didn’t. I was too lazy to go back and buy one and too cheap to pay for Netflix, so I was left with a lot of free time on my hands.

That time went to picking up new hobbies: in my three years here, I’ve learned to throw and catch a boomerang, solve a rubiks cube, make balloon animals, yo-yo, play the cajon, juggle, longboard, and am currently picking up hacky sack. This, of course, all while doing my homework, being a student, having a social life, and being a residence don.

A lot of people might think that’s crazy, or that I’m super ambitious. But I’m not…necessarily—I just like hobbies, and don’t spend a lot of time watching TV. However, that’s not to say I spend a lot of time doing hobbies either: I often just do them to procrastinate my homework or my readings.

To learn a hobby doesn’t take a long time. Based on my research and a few TED talks I’ve watched, I’ve found that it only takes 15 – 25 hours of dedicated practice to learn to do a hobby well. That’s about 45 minutes a day for a month, give or take a day or two. However, based on my experience, I’ve found that those numbers are a little misconstrued.

For instance, take juggling. In all, I think it took me maybe six hours of practice to learn to juggle three balls. But don’t think I spent six hours juggling, because I didn’t. I spent probably thirty minutes of that time juggling—the other five and a half were spent picking up the balls.

That’s the real hard part about learning anything—it’s not the time constraint, it’s the amount of failure at the start. As we get older, we become worse at failing, simply because we become used to succeeding. The reason why there are so many children who can become prodigies and world champions is simply because they aren’t daunted by failure—it’s almost expected of them. They lack our knowledge of the world, our skills, our wisdom. But they also lack our fear of failure.

As we become adults, we stop being used to failing regularly. When that happens, failure becomes a bigger deal. The thing is, though, the people who are the best in the world at what they do aren’t that way because they regularly succeed, it’s because they regularly fail. They push themselves constantly to the point of failure until they can succeed at that point, and then push themselves farther still. Thus, true skill isn’t found in success at all: it’s found through repeated, daunting, frustrating failure.

We need to learn to fail excellently. We need to see failure as a hurdle or stepping stone to greatness. We should always try to succeed, but we need to realize that failure plays the greatest role in any of our successes.

So go out and fail! Try something new, and be bad at it. After all, the only place you can go is up!

– Justin