That word conjures up so many negative thoughts and images. It sounds so desolate, so hopeless, and so final.
I think many of us are afraid of failure. I know I am at times. I’m afraid of what people will think if I try something and it doesn’t work. I’m afraid of what it means about me if I fail at something, like it means that I am a failure.
I’ve spent a lot of my life playing it safe, trying to avoid mistakes and trying to do everything right. Here’s the thing, the more I learn about the nature of going after our goals and about success, I’m starting to believe something different.
Not only is failure OK, it is essential.
By playing it safe and not risking failure we almost ensure we will not accomplish anything great. We may live more comfortably but we will never get to where we want to go.
It is easy to look at really successful people and assume they’ve always been that way, that they didn’t face any roadblocks, challenges or disappointments along the way. The truth is most successful people have faced numerous serious letdowns along their road to achievement. Here are a few famous examples (source: Online College.org):
- Michael Jordan was cut from the varsity basketball team his sophomore year in high school.
- Henry Ford’s early business ventures failed and left him broke five times before he founded Ford Motor Company.
- Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade and was defeated in every election for public office until he finally became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at age 62.
- Oprah Winfrey endured a rough and often abusive childhood as well as numerous career setbacks including being fired from her job as a television reporter because she was “unfit for tv.”
- Steven Spielberg was rejected from the University of Southern California School of Theater, Film and Television three times.
- J.K. Rowling was nearly penniless, severely depressed, divorced, trying to raise a child on her own while attending school and writing a novel before eventually writing the ultra-successful Harry Potter series.
What separates really successful people from most of us is how they respond to failure and ultimately how they view it.
Most of us tend to give up at the first sign of failure. Because of it we assume we are on the wrong track or that our goal simply isn’t meant to be. Or, like I mentioned before, maybe we’re embarrassed and are afraid of what people think about us because we didn’t initially accomplish what we set out to do.
Successful people instead tend not to see failure as an end point but as a sign that they are on the right track. They understand that there is always resistance to the pursuit of worthy endeavors and they use the failure to learn and to refine their approach so they get better at what they are doing.
Here is how some of them talk about failure (source: Forbes.com):
- “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill
- “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” – Paulo Coelho
- “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” – Henry Ford
- “Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” – C.S. Lewis
- “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison
- “Failure is so important. We speak about success all the time. It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success. I’ve met people who don’t want to try for fear of failing.” – J.K. Rowling
As I think about these examples and many others I’m encouraged.
I’m encouraged that I can change my patterns of thinking and behavior to learn to push through the initial sting of failure and use the experience to ultimately propel me forward.
I believe we all can do that. Yes it is tons of work, more than most of us can imagine, but I it is worth it and certainly a lot better than not trying at all!