5 Lessons from the 5 Biggest Failures of My Life
And how you can apply them so you don’t make the same mistakes I did.
And how you can apply them so you don’t make the same mistakes I did.
The world has led us to believe that failures are final and fatal.
But what if we stopped giving them so much importance and started treating them as lessons? What if we treated them as an essential part of the learning process and took away their power to crush our souls and dampen our spirit?
A few days ago, I was watching Ali Abdaal’s video on the biggest rejections of his life. In it, he shares with us the following lessons:
- You miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take.
- You have to accept failure and rejection.
- You have to do the stuff that you enjoy.
- Do not “be yourself.” Instead, “choose yourself” and be the best version you possibly can.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Use your unfair advantages.
- Find a way to turn failures into positives.
This inspired me to rethink my life’s biggest failures and draw out the important lessons from them. After all, As Steven Erikson quoted in House of Chains, “Regrets are nothing. The value lies in how they are answered.”
This post is about the five biggest failures of my life and how they taught me lessons to move ahead and become more goal-oriented. Read on to know how you can apply them in your life so you don’t find yourself in the same traps I did.
1. Roses and Thorns
My mother had a beautiful rose garden while I was young. When I was five, she used to pluck the prettiest roses from our garden, wrap them in a dainty bouquet, and hand it to me so I could gift them to our class teacher.
Sadly, five-year-old Anangsha was so painfully shy that she couldn’t muster the courage to walk up to the teacher and perform this simple task. And so, when a group of three prettier, smarter, more confident-looking girls came up to me and took my bouquet away, I let them. I watched them split it in three and each of them present one to the teacher, claiming the credit for my mother’s hard work.
When I conjure this memory, the bitter taste of defeat still fills my mouth. I felt so lost — like I’d let my mother down just because I couldn’t stand up for myself and tell my teacher how much she meant to me.
Lesson: Growth begins at the end of your comfort zone.
I could have gifted the flowers to my teacher. But it was comfortable saying nothing and staying invisible — and so, I took the easy way out.
When it comes to making a tough choice, think about how it will impact your prospects in life. Just because it’s hard now doesn’t mean it will remain hard forever. The first step is always the most difficult.
Don’t hesitate before taking a chance. Do it. You’ll thank yourself later.
2. Secrets and Secret Keepers
At age twelve, there was a girl in school I wanted to befriend. But she had this aura, this presence, that terrified and awed me in equal measure.
I knew I wanted to talk to her, but I couldn’t gather the courage to do so.
And so, I took the coward’s way out. I wrote a letter and poured all my feelings into it: how I felt about her, how she was so lovely and magnetic, and how I would love to be her friend. I left the letter on her desk and asked her to leave a letter there the next day if she wanted to know who I was and was interested to learn more.
In a twist worthy of a romantic comedy, she assumed the letter was sent by the hottest guy in our class. The next day, there was no letter for me, but my potential friend had a new boyfriend.
I should have told her I wanted to be her friend. But, I took the coward’s way out and look where it landed me.
Lesson: The easiest way to set yourself up for regret in the future is not taking a chance you’re afraid of.
Face your fears. Fail if you have to. Replace your “What if I fail?” with “What if I pass?” If the voice in your head is your biggest critic, turn it into your most loyal cheerleader by monitoring your self-talk.
Either way, your choice will define who you are and what you’re capable of. Five years down the line, would you prefer your life were filled with regrets or experiences?
3. Fear and Subjugation
At age sixteen, I was in a boarding school with a strict lights-out rule by 10 PM. My best friend used to maintain a journal which she wrote by torchlight after the lights went out.
One night, the hostel warden was on her rounds, and she spotted my best friend scribbling in her journal.
This was against the school rules. And so, she turned on the lights of the entire dormitory and publicly shamed my friend. She even took her journal, leafed through the pages, and read out the deepest, most intimate secrets my friend had written to the sounds of ringing laughter from the rest of the girls. By the time the warden was done, my friend was sobbing uncontrollably, mumbling she was sorry and that she’d never repeat this again.
During this ordeal, I had my fists clenched at my sides. The warden had the right to scold my friend for breaking the school rules, but she had no right to read out her journal and shame her for having those secrets. This was brutal and heartbreaking, and I wanted to jump in, snatch the journal away from her fingers, and tell her how it was a violation of personal space.
But I was sixteen and still agonizingly shy. I tried several times to open my mouth and speak up against the cruelty. But I couldn't. I just stood there, watching the drama unfold, feeling smaller and smaller as the minutes dragged on.
Lesson: Standing up for what you believe in might be hard. It’s also the most important thing you’ll do.
What you do in your toughest moments is what defines you and shapes your personality. You don’t want to leave a legacy of regrets behind. You want to create an impact in the world, to make the lives of those you love better, and the only way to do that is by facing your fears. To really have polarizing opinions and stand up for them when questioned.
4. The Bitter Aftertaste
At age seventeen, I wrote the entrance examination to join the most reputed engineering colleges in India. Back in those times, the only two career options for a “smart” kid were — either a doctor or an engineer. Biology scared me, so the best choice was to study engineering.
The entrance examination scene in India is extremely competitive. Over 2.1 million students compete for 11,279 seats in the best colleges of the country. Only 1 out of every 200 students who write the exam gets admitted. The rest are considered as “failures.”
In 2011, I was among that 99.47% of students who failed. I’d tried my best, studied for hours at end, but couldn’t make it to an IIT — considered to be the pinnacle of engineering studies in India.
Even though I managed to secure a seat in an NIT — another premium institute — my sense of defeat over not making it into an IIT was strong. I felt like I knew nothing, that no matter how hard I try, it would never be enough.
Looking back, the four years I spent at NIT taught me invaluable lessons. It gave me friends who are still my support system today. It paved the way for great things and laid the foundation stone for everything good in my life. It might have been the second-best option stats-wise, but for me, it was perhaps the best.
Lesson: What you want might be different from what you actually need. When one door closes, try looking for a window that opened.
Don’t cry and waste precious energy over all the ways you could have done better. Instead, focus on making it work with whatever you have.
You can make the best of every option. All you need is a shift in perspective and the will to keep trying to make the best life of whatever cards you’ve been dealt with.
5. Slash and Burn
At age twenty, my best friend in college and I had a quarrel. It was a silly matter involving a boy, but when I try to think back now, I can’t remember who it was or what it involved.
All I remember is that one simple disagreement drove such a deep wedge between my friend and me that I stopped talking to her after that. We’d been friends for three years, but I erased all our history because of that one incident, and cut her out of my life.
Lesson: Never let ego dictate your knee-jerk reactions. Take a step back, pause, analyze the situation before you make a choice.
As I wrote about this in another article, “No matter what happens, it never pays to cut people out of your life. You can hate them, hurl abuses at them, and make them cry. But you should always get to the bottom of the issue and tackle the problem, rather than converting it into a power play and see who emerges as the winner.”
Looking back, most of the “failures” I mentioned here are regrets: chances I didn’t take and times when I didn’t do what my heart knew I should have.
“In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.” — Lewis Carroll
Doing what’s right is difficult. But once you actually accomplish it, you’ll find out it wasn’t that hard after all. Most of the resistance was inside your head.
I create content in many different forms related to self-improvement, body positivity, and feminism on YouTube and Instagram. Join my email list to make sure you don’t miss out on anything new.