The Benefits of Productive Failure

THE GAP by Ira Glass from Daniel Sax on Vimeo.

Lifehacker linked to a great article, Productive Failure: How to Keep Going When You Feel Like Your Work Sucks, which inspired me to write a post.

Every so often I’ll get an e-mail from a reader telling me that they’re thinking about starting their own website and I try to encourage them as much as possible.  Most of the time when I followup with them they don’t follow through and I remember how I felt when I first started my website.

I was scared about putting myself out there.  I was scared that my writing would suck.  I would scared that no one would read anything I wrote.

But I took the leap anyways and kept plugging way.  Of course my writing sucked.  Of course my site was ugly because I didn’t have the slightest clue about building a website.  Of course I didn’t have any readers because I had nothing that was worthwhile to read.  Here’s an embarrassing look at the first iteration of my site.

Then I started slowly plugging away learning more and more until my writing sucked less, my website became less ugly, and I now have a decent readership.  Oh yeah, I had tons of fun along the way.  Who knew, embracing the suck could be so fun.

It’s a lot like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  The first time I stepped on the mats and got my butt kicked was extremely eye opening and frustrating… especially when it was by a guy that was half my size who effortlessly manhandled me as if I were a child.

Yet I wanted to learn more and get better.  I kept going and going, slowly sucking less and less.  Each day brought about an almost invisible incremental improvement so that today I suck less than I did yesterday.  After a few years of training and getting my butt kicked all the time, every once in a while I get the opportunity to dish out a little manhandling of my own.

The important thing is to realize that when trying something new, you’re going to suck.  You’re supposed to suck.  You’re supposed to fail.  You just need to give yourself permission to suck and to fail repeatedly enough so that you learn and eventually you suck less and fail less than the day before.  Don’t let your failures prevent you from learning.

If your thinking about starting a website, give it a shot.

If you’ve been curious about trying out that BJJ school or MMA gym or Crossfit Box down the street, why not try it out?

My BJJ gym is hosting an Aerial Silks workshop and guess what, I’m going to take a stab at it and I guarantee you that I’m going to be terrible at it.  But I’ll be having a blast while I’m failing and flailing all over those dangling silks (I only hope I don’t break my neck…)




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