Preparing to Fail is the First Step to Winning

Failure

Some of the most important lessons we learn in life are from our failures.  They serve as proof that we are trying new things, pushing new boundaries, and welcoming the unknown.  John Maxwell, the famous inspirational author, says the quality that distinguishes someone successful from one who is unsuccessful is his “capacity to manage disappointment and loss.” He goes on to say that while we all want to succeed, we should instead train for losses.

From our earliest days as children we learn to accept failure.  We fall while trying to learn how to walk, or ride a bike.  We don’t make the team we try out for, or we do make the team but as second string.  We get accepted by 4 of the 5 colleges we apply to, but that one declination stings.  Failure is everywhere.

Imagine if the world’s greatest inventors refused to fail.  Everything from the light bulb, to air travel, from the television, to the computer would be at risk.  When Thomas Edison was asked about how many times he tried for the light bulb and failed he said, “I didn’t have 1,000 failures.  It simply took 1,000 steps to make the light bulb.” Talk about an optimists attitude.

Our challenge is to rid our mind of the negative stigma associated with failure.  Human beings by nature are curious creatures.  Asking “why” leads to testing new thoughts, ideas, ways of doing things.  In the absence of curiosity we would have never discovered new lands, new civilizations, new technologies, or new medicines to treat and cure disease.  So why is it that people run from failure?

I would submit that some people believe failure shows weakness.  If you knew…you wouldn’t have failed.  Talk about an absurd viewpoint.  The famous management expert, Peter Drucker, said, “I would never promote a person into a high-level job who was not making mistakes…Otherwise he is sure to be mediocre.” Many organizations reward status-quo.  Companies that find themselves on a winning streak become complacent.  Their leadership sits back to relax and enjoy victory.  The problem is, that while you’re sitting back complimenting yourself for being so brilliant, your competition is working feverishly to disrupt your success and pass you by.  It happens every day.

So shift your thinking from having to be an expert at everything to one of a beginner…a learner.  When you’re in a learning mode your mind is open to everything that’s possible.  When you’ve decided you are an expert your subconscious shuts down your critical thinking skills creating tunnel vision.  So open your eyes, let your mind wander, and begin to think of new ways to do things.  As John Maxwell said, “Mistakes are acceptable as long as the damage isn’t too great. It doesn’t matter how much milk you spill as long as you don’t lose your cow!”

Embrace your failures…with each one you’re learning, growing, and becoming better at whatever you’re doing.

 

 

Why Failure is Your Friend

Failure

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.