Can you desensitize yourself from failure?

One of the biggest myths that I see out there is that successful people were very successful right from the very get go. There is the image put out that they succeeded at everything they ever did. Let’s keep in mind that I am defining successful as the people who rose from the “average” person into something remarkable, whether that be business success,  personal fulfillment, or something else.  Perhaps it is because  of the media, but that is how “successful” people that we are supposed to admire are portrayed.


If anything, such individuals failed many, many times. They also learned a great deal no doubt from the many failures that they have had throughout their lives. In fact, they probably could not have become so successful were it not for their previous failures.  They learned to better understand the world around them, to better understand people, and to better understand what actually drives success.  For this post, I am not going to name a specific person, because I think that we all have different ideas of who we define as “extremely successful”.


My advice to you would be to look at the interviews of such individuals. We will never meet most people we admire the most in person I fear. Look for interviews that go in depth, that go beyond the fluff that characterizes so much of our media today. You will find a pretty consistent pattern of making mistakes and learning from them.  A few things strike me about the people that are regarded as successful. First, they are outstanding communicators. The next is that they have a strong desire to improve themselves. The next is that they are usually quite willing to admit their own mistakes and imperfections. Finally, they are willing to build on their past history of mistakes and use that knowledge.


I have become convinced that you cannot learn without making at least some mistakes. In some cases, you may have to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Repeating mistakes in our culture is often negatively portrayed, but that is the reality.  Also, by repeating certain mistakes, you really drive the hammer home on what you need to learn. I guess it comes down to, are you still learning when you make those mistakes? Did you make the same mistake, but for different reasons?


Actually, I would not want to be with someone that has succeeded in everything. They have never faced failure and learned how to deal with it. That would leave them totally unprepared for when life does not go according to plan. They may be supercilious or more prone to committing the fundamental attribution error.  People who are used to failure will have a better understanding of what they need to learn when things do not go well.


A few years ago,  I met a salesperson who told me that they were working entirely on commission. He became very successful at what they did. He said to me that the reason why he succeeded was not, contrary to the popular opinion of manipulative salespeople, but because he truly understood people. He had a high degree of what is known as “emotional intelligence”. To get there though, he had to face lots of rejection, and to learn the hard way. Perhaps one of the more admirable things about being a salesperson is that people who choose that path become accustomed to failure. It is part of their job and a very high percentage of their best efforts will fail.


Likewise, look at many of the very wealthy entrepreneurs and similar people. They probably failed at many of their life ventures. In fact, they would not be where they were if they did not fail. The thing is, they did not let their failure get them in the long run. In the short run, failure can be devastating, it can cause self-doubt, and other challenges. In the long run though, those that desensitize themselves are far more likely to overcome those challenges.


Now I am not assuring great financial success, happiness, or really, anything if you desensitize yourself to failure, but your odds of doing so will be much better. That and you are bound to encounter failure at some point. You may as well try to get used to it.


I know that I am far from perfect in this regard, but lately, I have become convinced that it is an essential life skill. I think I have learned this the hard way and I think everyone else should.

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