Fail More, Suck Less

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”  -Confucius

I was 16, and I thought my life was over.

Growing up, I had things pretty easy: I was a good student, I had a good group of friends, and I was pretty athletic.  I wasn’t tall, I wasn’t big, but had enough talent and on-the-field effort to play most sports well.  I coasted through my first two years of high school, playing three sports and staying near the top of my class academically.  Junior year rolled around, and I did what I thought I was meant to do: try out for the Varsity basketball team.  Sure I couldn’t dribble well with my left hand, I was 5’10” and probably weighed 115 pounds, but I was Steve Kamb, and my brother was the captain of the team!  I had hustle!  All of my friends played!

I went through my three days of tryouts like they were a formality and couldn’t wait for the season to start.

The following morning, I walked down to the locker room to check the roster to find out what position I’d be playing.

My name wasn’t even on the list.

Wait, WHAT?! I immediately freaked out, hunted down my brother, and demanded that he go ask the coach what happened and if there was a mistake (luckily, he didn’t do this).  I honestly couldn’t believe that my name wasn’t on there.  For the first time in my life, I had failed at something important to me, and I thought my life was over.  I walked out of that locker room feeling like Buckner walking out of Shea…I had never been more embarrassed, confused, or disappointed.

I couldn’t face my friends (all of whom had made the team).  I wanted to find a dark corner to hide in for the rest of the school year.  I had failed.

…which turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me.

Failing sucks, but…

Yeah, I know…failing blows.

There’s nothing worse than finding out that you’re not good enough, that you’re in inferior, that you’re inadequate.  However, failing at something also wakes you up to reality and challenges you to be better.  Getting cut from the basketball team was a slap in the face that I desperately needed – it made me realize that trying to rely on ability alone might work for 6’5″ guys who are naturally talented at basketball, but not for a 5’10” weakling with no vertical and can’t dribble with his left hand.

Failing taught me that I wasn’t good enough.

After sulking for a day, I decided that if I was going to make the team the next year I had a LOT of work to do.  I signed up for a gym membership and started strength training.  I got stronger and more confident.

On top of all of this – I found happiness. It turned out that I was only playing basketball because I had been playing  since I was a little kid – the enjoyment had worn off years ago and I was just too stubborn to give it up – thank you Coach, for making my decision for me.  On top of that, I had tried so hard to be perfect in every aspect of my life that it was driving me insane – getting cut from the team gave me a freedom to be human that I hadn’t realized I needed.

Although I still chase perfection (I can’t help it), I don’t get nearly as disappointed anymore when I come up short.

My senior year of high school, I didn’t even bother going out for the team – I instead continued to strength train and learn about how muscles worked and how to get stronger.  I had fallen in love with exercise and training…and the seeds for Nerd Fitness had been planted.

…It makes you better

Failure teaches you more about yourself than probably any success you’ll ever have.  Failure teaches you what you need to work on, where your shortcomings lie.  If you’ve been lazy or complacent, failure will teach you that slacking off and coasting will not lead to success.  Failure teaches you exactly what went right and what went wrong and how to improve for the next time around.

Think back to the last difficult video game you played – you get to a new final boss of a level, and he absolutely kicks your ass.  Do you whine and mope and give up and go “oh man I’m a terrible person”?  Hell no!  You hit restart, learn from your last attempt, and manage to get a little bit better.  You still lose, but now you’re inspired and excited.  After 10/20/50/100 tries, you are finally victorious.

Compare that to beating a boss on the first try – your skills don’t improve, you don’t cherish the victory, you don’t appreciate the effort required to be successful because you won right away.  Like Henry Rollins says in Iron and the Soul, “200 pounds is always 200 pounds.”  If you fail at picking up a weight in the gym, you can work harder and eat better and eventually find success – weights will never lie to you.

If you’re a blogger or small business owner, read this article on “How to Suck at Launching a Product” by my buddy Baker from Man Vs Debt – easily my favorite thing he’s ever written.

…It removes regret

There’s another kind of failure entirely:  When you give it every ounce of your effort, everything you’ve got, and you still fail – it wasn’t because you didn’t try hard enough, it wasn’t because you were lazy – it was just because it wasn’t meant to be.  When you run into these failures – you can go to bed that night full of pride that you did all that you could; you “left it all on the field,” and still failed.  You can move onto the next venture without regret.

Once you realize that you didn’t die, that it’s not the end of the world, that there’s no lasting damage other than to your ego…the risk of failure suddenly doesn’t bother you as much.  Taking that next risk doesn’t seem as daunting, because you know that failure isn’t the end.  You can fail and then move on, like checking an item off a list.

Thomas Edison failed 10,000 times before finding the correct filament to make a light bulb.  If he had given up after 9,999 different attempts, who knows where we’d be today?

Attempt.  If you succeed, congratulations!

If you fail, assess, analyze, and then either improve or move on!

I have a confession to make

I haven’t failed in a while. 

Last June I quit my day job with around $3,000 in the bank and no money coming in through Nerd Fitness.  I wrote an ebook with no back up plan and blew my expectations out of the water for how many I expected to sell.  Back in November, I decided to book a ridiculous around the world trip on a whim, and everything pretty much managed to go right for me on it – I was even invited to speak at Google, which happened to also be my first ever speaking gig.   I wrote and launched two other ebooks while traveling, both of which built on the success of its predecessor and outperformed my highest projections.

Sure I busted my butt to make sure I found success with my ventures above, but I’ve also realized something:

I haven’t failed in a while! 

If I’m gonna put a dent in the universe, I need to start taking more risks.

Without these risks, there can be no innovation.

Without failure, there can be no growth.

Although I can’t find the article, I remember reading about Ramit Sethi’s “fail folder” – he keeps track of all his failures – if he hasn’t added to it in a while, then he knows he hasn’t been pushing himself hard enough and it’s time to take more risks.

I’ve been doing the same old stuff that I know I’m good at and I know I’ll have success with – that needs to change.  On Sunday, after a friend’s wedding in New York City, I’ll be taking a bus down to Washington, D.C. where I’ll be setting up my home base for the next few months – a new city where I don’t have an established group of friends.  After ten months of constant travel (I think somewhere around 65,000 miles of flying), I’m looking forward to focusing on challenging myself and focusing on Nerd Fitness.

I’m going to try some new activities: yoga, some sort of martial arts (either Capoeria or Kung Fu), breakdancing, and/or Parkour.  I’m sure I will get frustrated when I don’t find success immediately, but I know that it will make me a better person.

How?  By learning to suck less and less each time.  Like Jonathan Fields and his crappy guitars.

I have a bunch of new ideas for Nerd Fitness that I’m excited to start working on as well.  I’m picking ideas that are different and definitely a stretch for me, that will challenge and push me in different ways.  As stated in rule #11 of the Rebellion, I welcome the challenge.

I will still be traveling here and there (hope to get to South Africa for a few weeks before the year is up), along with quick trips to Las Vegas, New England, and Austin…but these next few months will be focused on leveling up MY life – something I’ve put on the back burner for far too long.

Fail the right way

Now, although I expect to fail or suck at a few things over these next few months, I plan on failing at them the RIGHT way – I’m not looking to fall off a mountain (which I almost just did) or take some astronomically stupid risk that jeopardizes all that I’ve worked for.  I’m also not looking to launch projects destined for failure simply because I know they’ll fail – that would just be a waste of time.

Instead, I’m looking to launch new projects and start new activities that will be a serious challenge for me – as long as I learn from what went wrong and apply it to future attempts or different projects, then a failure is really just a stepping stone to future awesomeness.

I had to get cut from the basketball team to find my love for strength training.  I had to work a crappy job in California to lead me to starting a blog.  These “failures” got me where I needed to be when I was ready to be there.

So, if you are going to fail – make sure you learn from how you failed and so that you can suck less next time.

Join me in failure

Next Monday, we start the next 6 week challenge on the Nerd Fitness Message Boards.

For the first time in a while, I’m actually going to participate!  Although I haven’t decided what my goals are going to be yet, I’ve already decided on one of them – I need to fail at something.  Feel free to join me and fail at something too – ask out that perfect 10 at the bar and get shot down spectacularly; sign up for a new class and suck horribly at it.  Launch a new website and neglect to attract more than a single visitor.  Once you get a few failures out of the way, you’ll realize that they’re not that bad!

When was the last time you failed? 

If it’s been a while, is it because you continue to find success?

Or because you haven’t been taking enough risks?


PS – I shared this article with my friend Lauren, and said “I’m happy with it, but I feel like something’s missing…I want it to be perfect.” She says “Well Kamb, maybe the fact that it’s not perfect is perfectly poetic.” Yup. I got served.


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72 thoughts on “Fail More, Suck Less

  1. Wow, Steve, I needed this one. For the past few months I’ve been trying to get my first job out of college, and failing miserably, especially when it gets to the interviews.

    When some people fail, they languish in it, like I’ve been. But you know what? I need to remember to treat failure as what it is: the rising action to a success story.

    Thanks, Steve. I’ll definitely be doing the 6 week Challenge. Long time reader, but it’s time to dive into the community.

  2. My failure outlet is Kung Fu, it’s probably the least successful area of my life. I had to work incredibly hard to reach my second yellow belt which is normally considered pretty easy to reach and it’s taken me two years instead of the normal one year 🙂

    Thanks for the article it cheered me up

  3. I failed spectacularly at marriage (or maybe just my gaydar failed me because we’re still best friends), but this has given me a chance to start over. I had to find a job, move across the world (was living in Japan), and become self-reliant. It’s still a little new and a lot scary, but I’m going to be alright. It was a good reminder of how strong I am. In ultras there’s a great saying that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: Embrace the Suck.
    Thanks for the great post and I challenge you to the worm once you got your break dancing skills up to snuff, Amy D

  4. There was an episode of The Addams Family cartoon where Gomez fails at failing and counts that as good enough. 

    As for DC – I welcome you in advance!  You might not have an established group of friends yet, but there are some awesome people here. I did the same thing 5 years ago, moved to DC with naught but a job offer and one person I knew, and I haven’t looked back! 

    Maybe I’ll actually make it to a meetup if you do another one while you’re here. 🙂

    As for failing, I failed at the last fitness challenge because I didn’t have time for anything extra beyond my regular fitness+work+grad school routine. And that’s ok! 

  5. Awesome. It’s like I always say: if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly. 🙂

  6. Oooh, I hope you try yoga! I’m always excited when new people get into it. 🙂

    I’ve failed in quite a few things over the past couple years, and I’m working hard to learn from them and not let them get me too down.

  7. I feel like this is the best post you’ve made in a while, Steve.

    I may be biased because it comes at a time when I need to get back on my fitness feet, though. xD A new 6 week challenge is just what I need. Since coming to Japan I’ve fallen off the paleo wagon a bit harder than I intended. Time to get back on mah feets!

  8. Fail you must, but Fear you must not…! 

    Solid, and like others before have said, this is a fine rallying cry for recouping and re-engaging – Especially for me right now as I’ve been shying away from committing to my first full (hopefully barefoot) marathon.  The timing of your post is just awesome, and the coolness potential in somehow embracing 26.2 miles by Springtime brings an inspired grin to my face…  Well played, sir, well played!

  9. So in two weeks I’m taking a test to get into the third level of Krav Maga. I passed the first one last December but I am still afraid. I still remember the feeling after taking the first test. At the end I didn’t care if I passed or failed I was just glad that I lasted a four hour full contact physical test. I thought “pass or fail, who cares? I finished!”

  10. Awesome Steve. I’m always looking to fail 😉 there’s lot of scope for it at the minute too…I’m a huge advocate on failing and learning from it – I’ve written about it plenty – and I certainly live by my own teachings! There are few more valuable lessons than the ones learnt out of failure.

  11. It’s true – you learn much more from failure than from success. But that’s exactly what makes people special – the ability to get up and try again and again. It reminds me of my favorite quote by Leonardo Da Vinci: “Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it. Then you do something else. The trick is the doing something else.”

  12. Currently my latest TB-28-Day-Challenge is kicking my ass. I’m at 0% progress and I’m 15 days in. 0_0 I’ve been busting my ass, but the competition I’m seeing is just *better!*

    Which is okay, it gives me 1) a goal to reach and 2) some examples/inspiration to look at.

    Through this seemingly catastrophic failure, I’ve actually started to draw again (since good graphic/logo design is rooted in being able to draw with pencil and paper) and I remember how much I really enjoy it.

    I can’t say something that helps me find an activity I really freakin’ enjoy is a failure. Ever!

    Oh, and if you’re looking for a new challenge (as we briefly discussed in Atlanta) I think I’ll be starting my ‘Learn To Breakdance in 28 Days’ challenge starting November 7th! =) I just need to figure out a metric to use to measure the goal by.

  13. My current motto is: Make new mistakes. Yeah I try to succeed at the things I set out to do, but most importantly, I try to learn from what I have done and move forward and not repeat it. Sometimes it is as simple as realizing that I can’t cook every night with my new longer commute, accepting that, and making a supply of weeknight dinners on the weekends. 

    Or as hard as realizing that normal gyms intimidate me and make me less likely to workout, but going back to the climbing gym is a whole other story. This one took years. And Nerd Fitness helped me realize that I was failing at getting back in shape because I wasn’t creating the best opportunities for myself not because I’m an inactive slug.

    Welcome to DC!

  14. I follow your in DC (lot of great info, my fiance and I are reworking our fitness routines because of it).  There are good opportunities for trying new things to fail at around here.  You could try your hand at biking on the large number of trails in the city using the bike sharing program in the city.  There’s also a few good pools and good areas for running that are very well trodden.  In fact, you could try your hand at minimal running while here.  A friend of mine is a big barefoot/minimalist runner and has a site similar to yours with a lot of good info.  Just google Maple Grove Barefoot Guy.  If you need any guidance around the city I’d be glad to return the favor.

  15. Love this one. Totally inspiring for me.

    Anyways, is anybody able to post the link of Ramit Sethi’s “fail folder”? Would like to read it aswell. Thank you!

  16. I’ve always kind of enjoyed failing (as messed up as that sounds) because I know sometimes I need to fail at something the first time around to work up the motivation and drive to really rock it out the second time around. I do a better job if I fail then get it on the second try than I would have if it was easy on my first attempt.

    Incidentally, if you decide to go with Parkour (which I highly recommend) and ever wind up in Cincinnati I’d be happy to show you some fantastic spots I know. 

  17. I’ve always kind of enjoyed failing (as messed up as that sounds) because I know sometimes I need to fail at something the first time around to work up the motivation and drive to really rock it out the second time around. I do a better job if I fail then get it on the second try than I would have if it was easy on my first attempt.

    Incidentally, if you decide to go with Parkour (which I highly recommend) and ever wind up in Cincinnati I’d be happy to show you some fantastic spots I know. 

  18. I’ve always kind of enjoyed failing (as messed up as that sounds) because I know sometimes I need to fail at something the first time around to work up the motivation and drive to really rock it out the second time around. I do a better job if I fail then get it on the second try than I would have if it was easy on my first attempt.

    Incidentally, if you decide to go with Parkour (which I highly recommend) and ever wind up in Cincinnati I’d be happy to show you some fantastic spots I know. 

  19. Would love to see you try parkour and maybe bring a Rebel Parkour Guide to life. I know there’s a guide around here but I’m still struggling to build my arm strength for that.
    Following your findings would be a great motivation.

    I wish you a great time in DC and lots of failure for your near future. 😀

  20. Mark Zuckerberg said ‘Make Fast, Break Things’, i say ‘Make Fast, Break Things, Fail Fast, and you’ll succeed fast.’   🙂

  21. Mark Zuckerberg said ‘Make Fast, Break Things’, i say ‘Make Fast, Break Things, Fail Fast, and you’ll succeed fast.’   🙂

  22. That’s a great article matey. Know exactly how you feel about getting cut (we call it ‘dropped’ in the UK) but then I was overweight and wore thick rimmed glasses!

    But it made me more determined, and the next year I ended up in the football (soccer) team – glasses and all!

  23. Great article! I like the idea of a fail folder (if anyone has a link to the article give me a shout); it reminds me of Rejection Therapy ( I actually tried the perfect 10 thing earlier in the week because of Rejection Theraphy:

    I had been dragged along to a singles night and my mate was chatting to some girls who weren’t really my type. In most cases like this I usually just have a few too many beers and forget about my worries. This time I didn’t feel like getting drunk, and I also didn’t want to look like a loner standing at the side of the dance floor. As such I decided to just go and dance. There were a few other drunk people making fools of themselves so I figured I couldn’t do much worse. Also it definately peeked up my mood.

    After that a few girls came and joined us, you know the type that look real nice but just want the attention. I started dancing with one of them, then got talking and to my suprise she wasn’t the attention seeker I expected, she was actually a really nice girl. Anyway, it ended up with us exchanging numbers and her number and agreeing to go out with me tonight, wish me luck!

    I think the moral of this is that unless you take risks, nothing exciting is going to happen. Things are just going to stay the same as they are. If you take risks, even if you fail, you learn something, and next time you can use what you have learnt to improve.

  24. Failing seems terrible in the short term, but in my experience it always works out for the better -whether something good comes out of it or you just end up learning from it.

    I “failed” to find the desk job that I wanted when I graduated with my honors finance degree in 2008.  I ended up working a hard and depressing warehouse job for several months while I searched for a job.

    But the money that I got from the job was enough that I was able to move to South Korea and get a job teaching English.  There I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had and got the opportunity to vacation in tropical paradises, ride elephants through steamy jungles, and even learn how to surf.

    When I came back home, my friends told me how lucky I was and how jealous they were of what I got to do.  But what I did didn’t require anything special.  If only they had failed in the same way I did!

    I’m currently looking for another job right now (actually in the DC area).  I’m having second thoughts about the whole desk job thing, but I know that no matter what happens, as long as you learn from your failures and make the most of them things turn out for the best.

  25. Greatttt post! I’m in with you! I will find something to fail at soon!! See u at the forum! 😀

  26. Greatttt post! I’m in with you! I will find something to fail at soon!! See u at the forum! 😀

  27. Pingback: The Worth of Money
  28. Thanks so much, Steve! Have to laugh at the giant pile of underpants I’ve accumulated. Time for some action! Spent the last week failing at cooking Paleo. It’s been exhausting, and frustrating, but satisfying too. Every morning I fail at eating protein is a morning to recalibrate and try another approach. Currently I have stuck to eating almond butter off a spoon. Gotta start somewhere. Thanks again for all the encouragement and inspiration!

  29. steve the moment you decide to come to south africa either Cape Town or Johannesbug Please let me know i would really like 2 C u @ a seminar or something.

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