Mar 04, 2014

    Shed stigma of failure and open door to success

    WHEN the late Irish author Flann O'Brien submitted the manuscript for his second book, The Third Policeman, to a publisher in 1940, it was rejected.

    Rather than admit this to his friends, he pretended it had accidentally blown out of the boot of his car.

    "This was a ruinous thing to say, because he couldn't then turn around and say: 'Oh, I've found it again,'" says Booker Prize-winning author Anne Enright, who selected O'Brien's story for an exhibition entitled Fail Better at Trinity College, Dublin.

    "The year after (O'Brien's) death, his wife got it published to a keen reception."

    If O'Brien had been more open about his failure to get the book printed, he might have seen his work published within his lifetime.

    The aim of the exhibition is to encourage debate about failure and how it can encourage greater creativity.

    We are all scared of failing and having to admit errors to our peers, and this fear heightens as we grow towards adulthood, says Ms Heather Hanbury, headmistress of Wimbledon High School.

    In 2012, the private girls' school held a "failure week" to teach its pupils how to become more resilient and learn from their mistakes.

    She says fear of failure can be crippling as it stops us from taking risks. This automatically cuts off new opportunities in life.

    "Our focus here is on failing well, on being good at failure. What I mean by this is taking the risk and then learning from it if it doesn't work," says Ms Hanbury.

    "There's no point in failing and then dealing with it by pretending it didn't happen, or blaming someone else."

    She says a fear of failure often affects girls more than boys because girls are "programmed" from a very young age by their parents to please adults.

    Shedding the stigma that is associated with failing can also open the door to victories.

    When tennis player Andy Murray failed to beat Roger Federer at the Wimbledon final in 2012, he broke down in tears, and the wait for a British Wimbledon champion seemed ever more elusive.

    But some believe it freed him from the fear of failure and Murray went on the following year to triumph against Novak Djokovic, ending the 77-year wait for a British men's champion.

    When players fail in the sporting arena, the public response can often be unsympathetic - such as the reaction to England's crushing defeat by Australia in the 2013-14 Ashes.

    Author and former professional cricketer Ed Smith played three test matches for England, but admits to feeling a sense of personal pain that he did not fulfil his original aspiration to play more than 50.

    Smith says failing can help "conquer a sense of entitlement", and relieve the pressure we place on ourselves. The more practice we get at failing, the more equipped we are to deal with it, he says.

    If failure can train us to be more courageous in life, we should also be just as brave at recognising it.

    The year after failure week, Wimbledon High School ran "blow your own trumpet" week. As Ms Hanbury explains, it is not only time to take the "sting out of failure", but also the "embarrassment out of pride".