Sweta Vikram on Taking the Time to Befriend Failure

2 years ago / by Sweta Vikram
Image credits: Shutterstock

We live in a world where perfectionism and success are applauded, and failure is frowned upon. If you are a high pitta individual like me (Type A, go-getter, success-driven), between social conditioning and your inherent nature to want to excel, you aren’t equipped to deal with failure. You are intense with your work, cerebral by nature, and have razor sharp focus. You work yourself to a point of burnout. Because the fear around failure is so great, you’d rather not attempt anything in case it doesn’t work out.

Imagine the stress you take on when you don’t see the benefits in failing and learning. How does that impact your own wellness and productivity? In pursuing only excellence, you might miss out on experiences that enrich your life. Also, when you don’t embrace your own failures, you are also less patient towards other people’s mistakes. Imagine how tyrannical a partner, parent, colleague, boss, or a client you might be if you haven’t befriended failure.

In September 2019, NBC Palm Springs invited me to the west coast for an interview. Between catching a red-eye after a full day of work and traveling to upstate New York for meetings, I forgot to pack any pants. I had laid them out on the chair in our bedroom (I wanted to pack the perfect pants), but I didn’t bring them with me. I landed in California with a formal, black dress for the interview and three blouses. No pants. I went on air and told the NBC team and the viewers about my “failure” to pack appropriately. We all had a hearty laugh. Because I goofed up, I narrated to the viewers that mistakes make us human. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, failure is inevitable. And that’s okay. It helped me re-evaluate what’s important in life. It also reiterated that being authentic is more valuable than being unrelatably perfect.

Over the years, I have become very intentional about holding space for activities and hobbies where I don’t excel. They directly teach me a lesson in life, business, and relationships. I pursue these activities for the fun of it. Since there is no performance ticker or goals attached to it, I don’t feel the pressure. I notice that befriending failure helps strengthen my character, makes me compassionate, and opens me up to possibilities. It reminds me about the power of perseverance. It also makes life more enjoyable.

Sweta Vikram ziplining

Failure teaches you to become better at taking risks. Last weekend, we went ziplining. It was a huge moment for me. I love movement and exercise daily, and practice my asanas. I can out-dance most people and thoroughly enjoy water sports. But I am not your adrenaline junkie or spend-the-night-in-a-camp kinda woman. After hiking in nature, I like returning to hot showers, warm meals, and unshared bathrooms. When we go bowling, I am that person who befriends people and finds stories, not the person who joins a team or changes into bowling shoes. Every time that we have gone skiing, I get cold and sip on hot chocolate. Let’s just say that I am more Carrie Bradshaw from “Sex & the City” and less Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games.” How do I know this? Failure raises your self-awareness.

This ziplining park had several courses. After completing the second course, I took a break. I enjoyed the experience, but I was also terrible at it. Instead of my face towards the platform, I managed to turn my body (unintentionally) such that I landed with my butt towards the staff member. You had to be there to see how hysterical the whole experience was. I cannot tell you how good sucking at zip lining was for my mental health. I was in no rush to finish the course. I didn’t feel the Pitta-urge to be the first one to get it right. I wasn’t impatient with myself when my harness got entangled. I didn’t criticize myself for not being the best. I laughed at my minor cuts and rope burns. If anything, I made friends while waiting for my turn on the platform.

Failure is a great teacher. Going ziplining reiterated to me the value of patience, resilience, being in the moment, and a sense of humor—be it in the office or at home or whether you are hung from a harness between two trees. Failure teaches you your own personal limitations and helps you figure out how to do better next time. It keeps your ego in check.

The ziplining experience helped me investigate the areas in my professional life where I could improve on/let go without stressing out. It made me realize about the aspects of my personal life where I was hanging on to what wasn’t required.

Failure is the universe daring you to evolve. I look at failure as a self-development tool and a form of self-care. When I am unafraid to try new things as hobbies/sports/recreational joy, I bring that mindset to my work, writing, business, and life. If I fail, so what? I will try again.

The setback brings wisdom along with it. As an Indian American, I used to be averse to taking risks. But slowly, I have seen the mental and emotional shift. To reach the next level in life, business, and my own personal growth, I started to take some risks. It’s paid off.

August is National Wellness Month, which focuses on self-care, creating healthy routines, and stress management. Our mental, emotional, and physical well-being are inter-related and have a direct impact on one another. My suggestion would be: Learn to have fun with failure. Pursue interests where you don’t excel. Let no one tell you that success is the only teacher.

Successful people don’t fear failure but understand that it’s necessary to learn and grow from. ~ Robert Kiyosaki