“If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”— Epictetus
What do you hear when you read this quote?
Popular media outlets suggest failing is the best learning lesson. Some folks sound delighted when they share about things that didn’t work out.
One might feel ashamed to admit a super win on the first attempt.
Memes assume the outcome would have been worse, and the learning would have been lesser, if a person had achieved their goal without a stumble.
Is that a logical conclusion? Sometimes we assume unrelated events are connected, when they're not. Does that we learned through failure mean that we wouldn't have learned had we not failed? Nobody can say if we had learned more or less. It's possible to learn while you create a win, and then you also have the extra time you would need to fix a failure.
Is there another variation of the meaning of Epictetus’ quote?
Let’s chat a little about the brain, celebration of failure, and self-confidence.
Failure can be an excellent source of powerful learning. However, the conclusion that instant success leads to worse results is faulty.
We cannot predict the future. You can learn as much from successful projects, from these delicious one-hit goals. Who knows what you will do with the extra time you don’t need for troubleshooting, starting over, etc.?
It’s best to love every situation/outcome you cannot change, or you didn’t change. See: Amor Fati
As long as you stay humble and growth-minded, there’s no indicator that you require failure to become the best version of yourself. See: Hooray to self-will
Are there consequences for focusing on “failure”?
Our brain doesn’t understand negation. It hears “cold” when you tell yourself “I won’t get a cold”. “I’ll stay healthy”, would be a more constructive wording.
And have you ever waited in front of the toaster? Telling yourself you won’t jump when the toast hops out? And then it shocked you even more.
The same principle applies to our expectations of an outcome. Failure can happen, yes.
Should we think about it all the time, consider we might fail, focus on the term “failure”?
With a healthy amount of self-confidence, we’re content with the fact that we might look stupid and make errors when we try for growth or a challenging goal.
We trust in our ability and flexibility to adapt plans to secure a positive outcome. So, if it doesn’t go as planned (as it always does), we’ll reflect and change if necessary.
Expecting and planning for a win with a hint of paranoia is a recipe for success.
Learning requires action. You can read as many books about dancing as you want, until you start to dance, you cannot ever learn it.
Whenever you are new to something, you will likely make mistakes in the beginning, or look clumsy.
I understand the quote in a way that you should not worry if you make a fool out of yourself, NOT that you should expect/embrace failure.
Beginners mistakes or looking clumsy isn't failure. You didn't fail if you're still trying.
Epictetus' self-improvement quote is (in my mind) referring to your inability to improve yourself, if you value external things too much.
Fear of failure, for instance, often stems from wanting to acquire external things, like reputation.
Here’s a clever way of the brain to comfort us when we face a setback or failure:
It helps us to come up with lines, such as
This way, we turn a loss into a form of win. Because losing doesn't make us happy. Winning does.
Depending on their temperament, people need a different basis to push forward. For instance, someone whose basic need is security has different needs than a hustler.
Double-Checkers, for instance, feel safer when they consider every potential negative outcome and worst-case scenario.
For everyone else: Get to know your temperament-specific needs, and cater to them. Self-confidence helps you to focus on the positive outcome you desire instead of potential setbacks.
They’ll happen anyway, and you won’t be more or less prepared by trying to mentally prepare for them.
Why do you play if you don't want to win? A current trend is to offer easy excuses, and a way out. We don't need to invest time into another person if we dismiss the sad person as depressed, the angry person as bipolar, the pubescent person as gender-fluid.
Weakness is nothing to look down on or be ashamed of. However, it shouldn't be the goal.
If you have a goal, you owe it to yourself to try hard. Otherwise, you don't fail at a goal, you failed at trying.
Everyone should find their happiness spot. See: Hooray to Mediocrity
There's no need to be ambitious, By definition, failure means you didn't achieve what you set up to do. That's not positive. It can happen, and is a normal part of life. But if you are happy where you are, there's also no need for setting goals.
Regarding the current trend of celebrating failure more than wins:
It doesn't make sense to hop on the LinkedIn popular train with statements that are the equivalent of: I'm happy I broke my leg. I had such a nice experience reading a book.