Ryan Leak, a motivational speaker, pastor, and author of Chasing Failure: How Falling Short Sets You Up for Success, helps businesses and organizations “embrace failure” and use it to drive individual and organizational improvement. This is the fourth article in a series designed to help reframe the concept of failure for marketers. The first article explains why failure is the secret to success, the second article lists five ways to make it happen, and the third article shares Leak’s personal story of how he learned first-hand how to convert failure into success. In this article, Leak focuses on why marketing students should chase—rather than fear—failure.
Kimberly A. Whitler: How do young people perceive failure?
Ryan Leak: I think young people perceive failure the same way adults perceive it—that it’s unacceptable. While it might start with the feeling of shame from a failing grade on a test, the shame continues even into the college admissions process. From when they’re in diapers until they get their diplomas, young people are conditioned to believe that failure is the end of the road instead of just a bend in the road
Whitler: Is this different from other generations?
Leak: Absolutely. Previous generations could fail in private, but this generation has to face failure in public. With social media placing an expectation of perfection on young people, the pressure to succeed—or appear successful—is astronomically different. There are students today facing more criticism online than even the most popular celebrity or the greatest athlete. In the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, social psychologist, professor, and author Jonathan Haidt talks about the adverse effects of social media on Generation Z: “A whole generation is more anxious, more fragile, more depressed. They’re much less comfortable taking risks.” While most people get online to connect, they leave feeling disconnected and discontent. So a young person today doesn’t just perceive failure as something their parents might see, it’s something the whole world could see.
Whitler: Why do you believe students should chase failure?
Leak: When we were young, we all probably had a dream of what we wanted to be when we grew up. Whether it was an astronaut, professional athlete, or a superhero—you probably felt like the possibilities were endless. But then before you know it, you went from dreaming as a kid to just surviving as an adult. I guess it’s easier to dream when you have no bills. This is why every young person should chase failure—because the more responsibilities we get, the less risks we’re willing to take. When you’re young, you have the bandwidth to do what you want to do and you can afford to make mistakes and still bounce back. When you’re young, you can dream uninterrupted because failure has not yet become something you fear. Perhaps there are some parts of us that should never grow up.
Whitler: How can students chase failure?
Leak: While students today face a lot more challenges when it comes to chasing failure, the good news is that they have a lot more opportunities too. I believe the most practical way a student can chase failure is to consistently engage in activities that intimidate them. Embrace the fact that failing is inevitable and don’t be afraid to look dumb. Make looking dumb cool. That’s quite literally the reason TikTok has seen so much success. According to Forbes, you guys, the seven highest-earning stars on the platform made at least $1 million in a year, and guess what? They’re all teens. People want to see you fail, but a lot of those people are willing to cheer you on while you do it. If you’re able to build the habit of doing things scared now, you’ll go further than you ever could in your comfort zone. Do it scared. Embrace failure. And don’t let anyone put limitations on what you can do just because of your age.
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