Dealing with the Frustration of Failure

In yesterday’s post, I argued that there’s nothing worthwhile in the domain of known. You need to get into uncharted waters to find something valuable and bring it back to the domain of known.

If you get into the domain of unknown, there’s a good chance that most of your actions won’t produce the results you’re aiming for. This is how Jordan Peterson defines the domain of chaos.

If you stay in the domain of chaos long enough, there’s a good chance that you’ll have to deal with frustration sooner or later.

You have to go through that frustration to reach success. Think about Thomas Edison failing at thousands of experiments to find the correct setting for the light bulb that worked.

How will you deal with the frustration of failure when it hits you? Are you going to give up and go back to what’s familiar? Or are you going to persist until you succeed or exhaust all possibilities?

Expect Hardship

James Stockdale was a senior American officer and a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He survived a seven and a half year brutal imprisonment with a mindset called the Stockdale Paradox.

The Stockdale Paradox involves cultivating faith in a positive outcome while expecting and facing the brutal reality of the situation.

What Will You Do Next?

In my day job as a software developer, there are times when I have to use a new piece of technology that isn’t well-documented. Often that becomes a typical experience in the domain of chaos.

In such times, I use the trial and error approach. When I come up with a solution, I expect it to fail. I ask myself what I’m going to try next when this attempt fails. In other words, I come up with a backup plan before trying a solution.

If my solution fails, I do the same with my backup plan. I expect it to fail and come up with another backup plan before trying my first backup plan. If my solution succeeds, then I’m positively surprised and move on.

Cultivate a Positive Attitude

Remind yourself that you’re going through hardship because you’re going through uncharted waters. You’re going through uncharted waters because there’s nothing worthwhile in the domain of known.

Remind yourself how Thomas Edison failed at thousands of experiments to come up with a light bulb setting that worked.

Don’t overinvest time or money in your experiments. Keep them simple. Fail fast and move on to the next one. If one of your experiments succeeds, then you can invest more time and money into it to scale it.

Remember that success in the domain of chaos comes after long stretches of dry spells. Keep your expectations low but your involvement high. That way you can go through those stretches as fast as possible and reach success at the end.

Conclusion

Success requires going into the domain of unknown, discovering something valuable there, and bringing it back into the domain of known.

That exploration phase is usually a long and frustrating process. The best way to deal with that frustration is to expect hardship for a long time but to have the faith that you’ll succeed at the end.

During the day to day operations, expect failure and ask yourself what you’ll do next. Keep your experiments simple and cheap. You can always scale an idea later when its prototype proves to be successful.

If all else fails, remember Thomas Edison who had to go through thousands of experiments to find a light bulb setting that worked.

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.

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