August 25, 2014Fail harder. Never be afraid of failure.

When you’re young, summer is supposed to be fun. But somehow between adolescence and adulthood it turns into a time of terror — the time of dreaded exam results that supposedly determine the rest of your life.

If you’re a teenager and you’re reading this, stop right now and pay attention to these words: your exam results do not define you. What you get, ultimately, doesn’t matter.

In ten years time, you won’t even remember.

You won’t remember 90% of what you learned in school. And 99% of it you’ll never use.

The only time anyone ever asked what I got in my exams was to get into university. And if you don’t get in to university, don’t worry about that, either. Nobody’s world ever ended because they didn’t make the grade for English Lit at Warwick. Read a book, learn on the job, learn how to make friends, learn how to use your hands… you’ll learn just as much.

The truth is I can’t remember my exam results. But even now, as an old codger, I can remember the immense pressure heaped on me by both school and parents to succeed. Failure wasn’t an option. Failure was shameful. Failure made you a loser who’d never amount to anything.

If you failed, you were nothing.

For the longest time, that fear of failure crippled me. Even when I succeeded, victories tasted hollow. Because I was less interested in celebrating my achievements than I was in being thankful that the terror of failing had subsided.

I said to a friend on Twitter: “If I ever have kids, I’ll teach them that it’s OK to fail. Because failing isn’t the same thing as giving up.”

Failing isn’t the same thing as giving up.


Those of you who work in advertising may already know this mantra — ‘fail harder’ — a motto eagerly adopted by Wieden + Kennedy.

And the truth is it’s precisely the right attitude to take. When you’re afraid of failing, you eventually learn to set your sights lower — to only try when you know you’re going to succeed, to only set ‘possible’ goals, to limit your boundaries to the comfortable and the familiar.

If your greatest goal in life is to avoid failure, you’ll never take any chances.

In order to succeed, you have to become comfortable with failure.

How many people quit their day jobs to become freelancers or start their own businesses knowing they’re going to succeed? Very few. How many succeed first time? Even fewer.

The real successes are the ones who stick at it, learn from their mistakes, and try again.

As a copywriter, I’m still afraid all the time.

I’m afraid I’ll miss a deadline. I’m afraid I won’t come up with a decent concept in time. I’m afraid I’ll fluff a presentation. I’m afraid a client will hate my work. And of course, I’m afraid of the blank page. Writer’s block. The indescribable fear of having no words at all.

But I’m not afraid of failure any more. Because I know that sometimes I’ll fail and it won’t be the end of the world. I’ll lose jobs, clients, girlfriends, games of poker, whatever. Maybe I’ll lose my house or my shirt.

Who knows how hard I’ll fail?

I don’t. The only thing I know is however hard I fail, I’ll pick myself up and try even harder next time.

Fail harder.

Those words are just as true whether you’re working at an ad agency, going freelance, setting up your own business, or simply collecting your exam results for the very first time.

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This entry was posted on Monday, August 25th, 2014 at 8:50 pm and is filed under Blog, Me and my business. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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