Thomas Edison once said, “I’ve not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
When I applied to colleges, I wanted to get into as many as possible. More acceptances = more options = better. That was my thinking. I know the idea of more acceptances = bigger ego also played a role, but that’s beside the point. My first letter I received was a wait-list. Not that that’s anything to complain about, but it wasn’t an acceptance, and this was a school I had confidence I could get into. This immediately shattered my confidence about getting other acceptances, and a mini-meltdown ensued, tears and all.
I had no idea at the time that wait-listing would be a blessing in disguise. I ended up getting wait-listed to all colleges but three: my state university, a small university in Denver, and my current school. I didn’t want to go to my state university, and I liked the Denver school a lot but I didn’t love it. That left one choice, and the absolute right one for me: the University of Pennsylvania.
Failure, however you define it, is not always limiting. It can actually be liberating because it can allow you to close another door that shouldn’t have been open in the first place. It can allow you to resume your search for success by pruning the unnecessary branches of the infinitely-branched decision tree that is life. Especially when it comes to things like jobs and college admissions, we tend to feel that the more options we have, the better. This is not only scientifically false (it turns out that the more options we have, the less satisfied we are with our decisions), but having more options isn’t better because it means we have a higher likelihood of picking the wrong one, which is sometimes exactly what happens when we fail.
A rejection can actually tell us, “Hey, that’s something you wouldn’t have enjoyed doing anyhow,” or “Don’t worry, there’s something much better out there.” Rejection doesn’t just mean that you’re not right for an opportunity, it might mean that the opportunity isn’t right for you. And who could complain about receiving that much-appreciated heads-up?
I find Edison’s quote about failing comforting in times of rejection. He invented the light bulb… Imagine how many times he tried and failed. And yet, every time, he was comforted by the fact that he’d eliminated another wrong path, he’d found another way that wouldn’t work. Each failure brought him one step closer to his goal.
If Thomas Edison could fail 10,000 times, what’s another failure or two?
When have you found failure to actually be a blessing? Comment below!