Huffpost Women
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Gretchen Rubin Headshot

Enjoying The Fun of Failure

Posted: Updated:

As I think about my happiness, I have to acknowledge that I'm competitive, and a perfectionist, and I hate the feeling of failure or making mistakes. But I also know that failure is a necessary part of creativity, of risk-taking, of aiming high. I remind myself that if I'm not failing, I'm not trying hard enough. Failure and imperfection are quite common (maybe you've observed this yourself), and if we aren't willing to make mistakes or to accept flaws or failure, we can't achieve much.

So one of my happiness-project resolutions is to "Enjoy the fun of failure." I really think that repeating this idea over and over has helped me to be more light-hearted about taking risks.

According to the First Splendid Truth, to be happy, we should think about feeling good, feeling bad and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth. Happiness research confirms that people get a big boost from learning new skills and from novel experiences, which provide that atmosphere of growth. However, while novelty and challenge bring happiness, they also bring frustration, anxiety, mistakes and failure. Happiness doesn't always make us feel happy.

Once when I wrote about the "fun of failure," someone responded, "Don't think about it as failure! Re-cast it in your mind as something different," etc. My first reaction was to agree, but then I realized -- no. I don't want to pretend that I'm not failing; I want to embrace failure.

Along the same lines, I remind myself, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." (This is a Secret of Adulthood that I cribbed from Voltaire.)

I often feel myself shrinking away from opportunities or ideas, because I'm worried about doing a less-than-perfect job -- even though I know that I'm happier when I create, when I push myself, when I try new things. That's why these two resolutions are important for me.

Enjoy the fun of failure reminds me to lighten up -- to accept failure or mistakes as an important part of a process. It's okay if something fails. In fact, that's part of the fun.

Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good reminds me that it's more important to do something at all than to do something perfectly. Many things worth doing are worth doing badly. Doing something badly is often a necessary stage toward doing it well.

I've found that when I'm pushing myself to do something that means that I'll risk failing or making mistakes, it's helpful to try to make that activity into a frequent habit. For instance, when I launched my blog, I decided to post six days a week. I felt very uncertain about what to do; I was worried about putting myself out there; I was nervous that I'd make some kind of very public mistake. By posting so frequently, I made that activity feel comfortingly familiar. Also, it took the pressure off any one day's post. If my writing wasn't particularly interesting, or if it sparked a bad comment, it didn't matter much, because I was already writing something new. But if I'd been posting once a week, the stakes would've felt much higher. I would've felt much worse if any individual post received a negative response.

Habits tend to be deadening, which is a disadvantage when we're doing something pleasurable, but which can be an advantage when we're doing something that makes us anxious.

Reminding myself to "Enjoy the fun of failure" and "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" doesn't always work, but it helps. Have you found any good strategies for helping yourself be calmer about accepting mistakes or failure?

This blog post is part of a series for HuffPost Moments Not Milestones, entitled 'The Moment I Stopped Being Perfect.' To see all the other posts in the series, click here.