Years ago I read the book Failing Forward by John Maxwell and it had a profound impact on my life. I grew up in an ultra competitive home where me and my sisters were raised to believe that failure was not an option. As I entered the workforce and began my career I carried this belief with me only to learn, in short order, that failures can happen regardless of the actions taken.
From bad bosses (you know who you were), to poorly run companies (you know who you were as well) to jobs I simply didn’t like, failure began to approach my doorstep uninvited. I worked hard, pressed forward, acted with persistence and determination and still experienced my share of failures. I’ve missed sales numbers, hired the wrong people, and had sales and marketing campaigns fall flat. Yup, I’ve seen my share of failures.
Sometime after turning 40 I began to view things differently. For the first time I was able to look back at my failures not as failures but as critical learning events that took place at a moment in time. I’ve been battle tested, failed at times, yet have come out stronger each and every time.
We learn when we fail. In fact I’d argue the quality of education we get from failure is vastly better than the education we get from success. Success is simply the culmination of multiple failures. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. The greatest inventions ever were the result of countless failures. Many of the world’s most deadly diseases were cured only after countless failures while looking for a cure. Thomas Edison once said he it took more than 10,000 tries to invent the light bulb. What if he gave up at 9,000? I’d hate to think I’d be writing this in the dark.
The point is that we learn from our failures…if we allow ourselves to. Here are 3 things that failure helps to improve:
- Decision making. Making decisions is a tough business. It requires speed, thoughtfulness, intuition, and experience. Experience comes through both failure and success. The more you have of both the better decisions you will make.
- Mental health. The sooner you embrace failures as your friend and not your enemy the quicker you’ll be able to look at failure for what it is…a teacher. You fall off your bike and you know it’s not the end of the world so you get back on. You get laid off from a job and find another so now you know that losing a job isn’t a life sentence.
- Leadership. Personally I want to work for someone who’s failed…at least a few times. I’m much more willing to march into battle behind a battle-tested leader than someone who is entering their first rodeo. Leaders who have lived the highs and lows are typically more stable offering a steady hand in times of stress as they’ve seen it before and know they can navigate through it. While it may sound odd to say, failure is one of the biggest ingredients to building confidence. The more you know you’re capable of handling the more confident you will be in yourself.
So rethink your opinion of failure. It really is your friend if you let it be.