When I was sixteen and angsty, I embarked on a personal challenge I titled "Project Failure." The goal of the project, according to my tumblr bio, was to shatter my fear of failure. The reasoning behind the project — inspired by the entrepreneurs idolized by my high school self — was the idea that failure is a positive thing. Experiencing failure, ideally, would teach me valuable lessons and help me succeed long-term.
In the early years of SpaceX, Elon Musk himself said, "Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough."
The general consensus among entrepreneurs is that risk-taking is essential to innovation. And, if you are afraid of failure, you will inevitably avoid taking risks. This is applicable to professional, academic, and personal life. If you fear failure, you will avoid trying new things and stay tucked within the limits of your comfort zone, only doing things that you know you will succeed at. You will miss out on big opportunities.
My personal motive behind "Project Failure" was a discontentment with my accomplishments and a strong craving for adventure. Part of this might have simply stemmed from my age — most sixteen-year-olds do feel this relatable angst. However, part of it was a genuine concern for my future. I wanted to be well-equipped to thrive in college and my adult life, and I knew I had some growing up to do. I needed to get out of my comfort zone. I needed to fail.
So I started small. I applied for jobs that I was unqualified for. I took rigorous classes. I set challenging, potentially unattainable goals. Nothing happened. The only thing I was failing at was letting go of my fear. My perfectionism drove me to succeed.
At seventeen, I felt a gaping lack of meaning in my life, so I ramped up the risk-taking. I had wanted to start an online art store for years, so I used "Project Failure" as a catalyst. I invested time into designing my products and put them up for sale in my store, well aware that the likelihood of success was slim. For the first three months, I made zero sales. I allowed myself to fail.
Then, something unexpected happened: I stuck with it. I continued to pour my passion into designing my products, and I sold my first sticker the next month, making a whopping twenty-one cents of profit. Still, I stuck with it. Over the next year, sales increased exponentially, and they continue to grow today.
At eighteen, as I started college, life felt less meaningless, but I was still desperate for adventure. Moving out of my parents' house wasn't as exciting as I had expected it to be, and college didn't feel particularly meaningful. I needed more from life.
That meant letting go of 4.0
During my first semester of college, I took five classes, managed my online art shop, started a new part-time job, started writing for two publications, and went on a new adventure every week. In order to pour myself into more rewarding work, I took a step back from my classes. I knew I needed to keep my GPA high enough to keep my scholarships and apply to graduate school, but there was no need for it to be perfect. Letting go of 4.0 opened up a new world of opportunities. Permission to fail allowed me to grow.
If you are stuck in a rut, consider starting your own "Project Failure." Giving yourself permission to fail changes your life by removing the constraints of perfectionism. Failure sets you free.