Why Are We So Afraid Of Talking About Failure?

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Although this has been on my mind for a while as a realization, but coming out of this movie made me realize how accurate my realization was. Western culture highlights and celebrates failure very often, and in all different media platforms, while Arabs shy away from it, burry it, and prefer to pretend success comes overnight, and failure means failure.

I just came out from the new movie for Will Smith: “Concussion” (which is based on a true story), and I was mesmerized and amused by the struggling journey of Dr. Bennet Omalu. Setting aside the discrimination he got because of his Nigerian origins, when he started to discover the medical condition Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), he got rejected by almost everyone because to them they didn’t look at it as the scientific discovery it was, rather as an attack on their most favorite form of entertainment, which is football. When Dr. Omalu kept persisting to reach out to the world and explain this condition, he was ridiculed, called fraud, he was threatened to lose his job, be deported, and his wife’s life was being threatened. He had to quit his job, move to another state and start all over from scratch. It was only years later after more and more casualties were proven to fit the medical condition he discovered so that his discovery started to get recognized.

That’s a one case, I’ve also just finished reading a book for Elizabeth Gilbert called Big Magic (she’s known for her book Eat, Pray, Love), in which she wrote eloquently about how writers lose their inspiration so often, how authors get rejected by a huge number of publishers before they can catch a break, and how it took publishing few books before the world heard of her name. The same goes for J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series. By the time she finished writing her first book in the series she was actually on the poverty line, rejected by 12 publishers before a publisher agreed to the book. Her series has now sold over 400 million copies in different languages around the world.

I also have just finished reading an audio book by Seth Godin (the famous author and marketer) called: “Leap First”, in it he gave loads of examples of people who failed so many times before they made it, and how every over night success carries behind it thousands of hours of failure and constant pursuit.

Last summer I attended the Broadway musical “Beautiful, The Carole King Musical”, which depicted the story of Carole King, the songwriter and singer for so many hit songs like “You’ve Got A Friend” & “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman” (which was sang by Aretha Franklin). The musical was about the tough journey she had, the number of rejections, the number of closed doors, the number of failures she had before she created all the amazing songs she had, and just recently she received the Kennedy Center Honors award in a beautiful ceremony.

I’ve also watched sometime ago a TV series called “Silicon Valley”, and it’s about the journey of a tech startup in Silicon Valley, with all it’s high notes and low notes, and horrible failures and triumphs. Another example showing us that it’s not an easy journey, but persist and you will reap the results.

The number of examples showcasing failure and celebrating them in the western media is huge, and if you noticed, it’s not in a single form, it’s in books, movies, musicals, audio books, newspapers, magazines, radio, it’s everywhere. You can’t miss it. Understanding that failure doesn’t mean that you’re doomed, but that simply you hit a roadblock that might have been placed to push you in a new direction.

I never saw this in our media, not in books, not in newspapers, not in magazines, and definitely not in movies or TV shows! And to add to this, I recall recently I was a panelist on a startups discussion panel, and when the organizers was preparing for the panel with the moderator and panelists, we (panelists) wanted to add an angle to the discussion about the failures and negative things that crossed our path, the organizers were actually against the idea, saying we don’t want to add a negative tone to the panel. I told them but negative is an inevitable part of the journey, people who are starting on this path need to know they aren’t alone in this when they face it, that it’s a natural part of the process and that they must persist. But the organizers insisted to keep that out.

Am I over generalizing when I say Arabs are afraid of talking about failures? Like it’s a disease that may catch on anyone talking about it or hearing it? I don’t know. I can only report on what I see. All I know is that failure is part of any journey, and that startups and creative journeys face a whole load of failures and will continue to face them as long as they persist in their journeys. The only difference is that the failures will evolve in time, we’ll learn how to overcome them, we grow, and then we face new challenges that push us even further. But when we don’t know that this is a normal part of the process, and discussing it is so frowned upon, then many will quit the journey before it even begins because they don’t know better.

Let’s share our failures as much as we share our successes, let’s document them, let’s celebrate them, because those failures pave the path for our success.

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