I once knew a very successful business leader who would often say “Fail Fast!”
I had another friend who would regularly teach others to “Fail Forward!”
More recently I came across a quote that said “If you want to speed up your success, double your rate of failures.”
What is it about failure that is so important to succeeding?
It seems counter-intuitive that failure could actually be a catalyst for success, and yet time and time again we learn that the success of well respected people has come only after their trial of failures. It seems failure is almost a requirement. Perhaps that is why so many people continue to struggle and never quite reach their fullest potential, they are just too afraid to fail.
Is It Really Failing?
There are countless notable quotes from very successful people about this concept.
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy
“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Denis Waitley
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison
“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” – Henry Ford
“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” – Johnny Cash
“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
If failure is so important, why are we so fearful of it? We can see that only after failure have most great things been accomplished, and still we cower from the sting of missing our mark. These temporary setbacks, often with minimal real damage to our lives, could be the precise catalyst for the spark of genius that we need to break through. Why are we so resistant then to allow failures to become a stepping stone on our path towards success?
I believe the answer is simple… because failure is scary.
We create such dramatic ideas of what failure could bring that we never allow ourselves to consider the amazing joy that the alternative of success will offer. Before we ever step towards our goals, we are scattering imaginary tacks that we convince ourselves might be unpleasant if we dare to tread that way.
We become so petrified by the possibility of failure that we prevent ourselves from ever really dreaming beyond the moment. We let ourselves accept familiarity as safety, while our heart yearns for more.
We convince ourselves that the idea of failing is so daunting that it becomes defeat before we’ve ever stepped onto the battlefield.
The Greatest Have All Failed
Consider this… we continue to revere the athletes, celebrities or politicians who we see as successful. Many of them only succeed some of the time, and many had to experience multiple failed attempts before success became familiar to them.
LeBron James has won only 3 championships of his 8 NBA championship appearances. As a player, Jerry West of NBA logo fame won only 1 of 9. Jim Carrey, Jewel, and Steve Jobs were each homeless and practically starving at times before achieving success. Abraham Lincoln, only after years of mixed success including many defeats for public office, finally became the president we now admire.
Almost anyone who has done anything worth admiring has done so after many, many setbacks and learning experiences. Why then should we be exempt from such experiences?
The truth is, most would never really think of these people as failures, yet at times every one of them were. Nobody is focusing on what they didn’t accomplish though, because we are all so impressed with what they did.
So should it be for you. In the end, people are likely not going to think back on the times you failed or lost. You are the sum of your parts, made up of years worth of experiences, errors and mistakes, and impactful learning opportunities. Without your past failures you would never be where you are right now, and you are already so much more than you accept or believe. Your failures were the master’s hands that sculpted you into the person you are today.
I challenge you to see yourself differently. Learn to recognize and appreciate in yourself the flawed but beautiful human being who would hold no real character or uniqueness without the scars you have acquired. I encourage you to go forth today, looking past yesterday’s short comings. You are more than the missteps or stumbles you may have had before. The very fact that you are still stepping forward means you still believe, you are still creating, you are still becoming.
Each step is drawing you closer to your potential and to your ultimate victory. You will be remembered for those victories long after the impressions of any failures have dissipated. Failure may strain and challenge you, but as long as you still believe in yourself that’s all that matters. Let your failures become the very reasons why you succeed.
Question: When have you seen a failure lead you to success? Leave a comment below.