I want to share several mindset shifts on dealing with failure that’s been discussed in my tech community. I hope that these gems of knowledge help you in your tech career.
From what I can tell, the consensus of the definition of “Failing Forward” is the act of acknowledging failure, mistakes, and blockers as part of the process of moving forward. An example is someone learning to code and their code doesn't work the first time. They fixed it in 6 hours. The next coding challenge failed and they fixed that code in 3 hours. Each successive coding session leads to fixing the problem faster.
Failure teaches us what doesn't work
Sort of like banging iron on an anvil, the first strike isn’t going to make the iron strong. But each strike (AKA failures) removes imperfections and makes the final design stronger. In tech, your first attempt at a coding problem, first interview, first hackathon, or anything will not be perfect. But each follow up activity will make you better. Use each failure as a learning opportunity and never give up.
I remember this phrase, “Even in fear, we can still step forward”. It meant to me that no matter what, we shouldn’t view failure as something to avoid like the plague. Coding is fail, fail, fail, possible works, (I tricked you) fail, it works, and it fails again for no reason.
Failure teaches us multiple ways to solve problems
When your idea fails you try 10 more methods, ask 10 people for help, and Google 10 more times. You have learned 30 new ways to solve a problem while failing. But all of this failure teaches us and improves our capability to write software.
Failing forward means that your failure isn't worthless, and you aren't starting over from scratch. You take the information that you learned in the "failure" and you apply it to the next thing. A friend share with me this advice:
"If you put good in, you’ll get good out." Spending time investing in yourself, growing, and working hard will eventually lead you to things you didn’t expect possible.
Personal story about failure & success
I want to share a personal story that taught me a lot about failure and success. One of my many personal experiences with failure was at the law enforcement academy a few years back. My coworkers didn’t think I could pass. I was small, slow, and didn’t have that “cop” mentality. My mentor at work gave me the advice that there will be a line (my normal limit) that I will have to cross daily. That line is uncomfortable, painful, and unenjoyable. It’s not going to be clearly defined, but identified by my improvement from yesterday. That line will move based on my progress.
Unfortunately at the academy, I struggled with firing a firearm (always last place), running (almost dead last), and reacting quickly to violent situations (I was tagged or declared nonactive a lot).
But I was constantly reminded by the academy instructors that success comes after failure and success is defined by my gifts, strengths, and personal goals; not in relation to others. I excelled at logical thinking scenarios (following the clues to the crime), I was number one in push ups in my class, and could finally hit my target with a firearm. While others resigned due to the stress of the learning process, I persevered. By the time I graduated, I learned that failure is a perspective and an integral part of the journey.
Failure is a stepping stone on a path to success
“Failing Forward” sometimes requires us to take several steps backward to leap forward. This could be rereading some documentation, refactoring a function, or taking a refresher course. Regardless of what sacrifice we must make, sometimes we do what we have to do until we can do what we want to do. As tech professionals, we fail so much that we need to have the mentality to keep going until we succeed. That progress is progress as long as we are learning what NOT to do and iterating till completion.
Best way to fail
There is a mental “Flow State” that we can be immersed in that is normally achieved at the intersection of the brink of comfort and failure. That thin line between the two is called a healthy challenge and comes from being comfortable with the possibility of failure.
If you can fail as early as possible, with minimal loss, many times; you will gain information on how to pursue your path forward. Successes and failures help us to see the terrain and navigate the path toward success. As long as you learn from a failure and move forward, then it is merely a course correction toward success.
Similar to riding a bike, you have to fail a lot to get comfortable with failure so that you will have the ability to succeed. It means having the attitude that failure is ok and is a stepping stone to success.
Someone mentioned to me about a concept called the “Goldilocks Rule”. It stated that we are most motivated when our task is at the edge of our ability. If it’s too hard we will give up and if it's too easy we will get bored. The learning opportunity is just a little past our limit.
Words of Caution
A cautionary tale to the “Failing Forward” mindset is not to mistake struggle with results. Struggling for the sake of struggling doesn't make you better; it just makes you tired. An example is struggling to climb a mountain when there was a tunnel that went through it. It’s important to evaluate your situation and resources to make the best decision you can. Someone shared this quote,
Don’t live in the problem. Live in the solution!
Personal story about failure & success
I want to end with a personal story of mine. One of my favorite quotes to share is “Let your failure be a speed bump, not a wall.” This motto took on new meaning for me when I was a teacher assistant for the tech boot camp Launch-Code. I saw students face medical, family trauma, work, and mental issues. All of these life uncertainties along with learning to code. While these are huge imposing walls; they can be speed bumps. In the end, only a few made it through the program because they came back to class, they stayed up late finishing assignments, and they reached out for support. They had a clear vision of the rewards of success.
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