Neil Gupta

Conquering Failure

506 words • 3 minutes to read

A drenched man is not afraid of the rain.

-Anupam Kher at IIT

Kher gave an extremely inspiring speech at IIT yesterday about learning from one’s failures and never letting our perceived weaknesses hurt us. He is a living example of the rags to riches cliché we see in movies.

His most significant lesson that he kept reiterating was to be honest, work hard, be yourself, and most importantly, be confident. The world will constantly try to put you down and focus on the weaknesses that you are afraid of. However, if you acknowledge your weaknesses (be honest), build your strengths (work hard), focus on exhibiting those strengths to the world (be yourself), and don’t be insecure about your weaknesses (be confident), then success is all but guaranteed. If your weaknesses, no matter how severe, don’t bother you, they can’t bother anybody else either.

One example he mentioned during Q&A really demonstrated this philosophy. In India, there are exit exams for 10th grade. If you fail, you must repeat that year before moving on. This is the most embarrassing thing for a student. One day in high school, Kher’s father treated him to an expensive lunch at an upscale restaurant. Coming from a poor family, this surprised him, but on his father’s insistence, he ate a full meal, wondering what the occasion was. At the end of the meal, he asked why he was being treated, and his father said, “You failed 10th grade.” Naturally, Kher wondered why that would result in a treat, to which his father replied, “I am celebrating your failure so that you are never afraid of failure again.”

Most people spend their whole lives never taking risks or not living up to their potential because they’re afraid of failing. It is this fear, not our lack of ability, that holds most of us back. But the best part about failing is that you’re already drenched, so there’s no reason not to keep trying again.

Got a crazy idea or dream? Try to achieve it. And if it doesn’t work, then work hard and try again.

In the Silicon Valley, failures are more readily encouraged. Many VC’s won’t even invest in a startup unless the founders have experienced at least one failure. While that is extreme, since it is entirely possible for people to be successful on their first attempt, it is refreshing to see failures considered acceptable and even encouraged in that region. This culture needs to spread to the rest of the world because when it does, we will likely see an explosion of innovation.

Over the years, I’ve picked up several inspirational quotes that I remember and use almost everyday. They range from common sayings, like “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” or “Ask and you shall receive,” to more specific ones, like “Innovators are always seen as crazy until they’re successful” or “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” I will be adding Kher’s quote to my list, and I hope you do too.

Written on September 21, 2010 in Chicago.