Failure – Success in Progress

Everyone loves to win! It’s one of the best feelings. There is something deeply satisfying in triumphing over odds and exacting victory. That delightful feeling when you hit ambitious targets is also the reason we celebrate after wrapping up projects. In fact, winning causes a physiological effect by increasing the dopamine receptors in your brain. This makes you smarter, more confident, and really happy. So, it may seem counterintuitive for us to say this but losing may actually be good for you, at least every now and then. 

When we think about failure, we tend to think of things in a negative light. We say that failure is painful and that it causes emotional turmoil and upset. It inflicts agonising pangs of guilt, regret, shame and remorse. However, those that have known true failure and have bounced back from it understand that failure is absolutely necessary for success. Sure, failing hurts. In fact, it cuts deep like a knife, slicing its way to our inner core. Yet, it is necessary. The most successful people in life have failed the most times. If you try to go through life without failing at anything, then you’re not really living a life at all. Taking risks and falling down flat on our faces is part of life; it’s where the lessons lay, and it grows us into who we are.

Perhaps you were blindsided by a brutal layoff from a high-level corporate role, passed over for promotion after promotion, or assumed a new role that ended up being nothing like the picture painted in the interview. Perhaps you launched big initiatives that lost money, partnered with the wrong people, and were deceived or had a big idea tank publicly. In whatever way perceived failure shows up in your life, falling short actually sets you up for success when you approach it in the right way. People typically associate failure with defeat. “That’s it, it’s all over. Close up shop! We’re done here……” However, that most certainly isn’t the case. Failure doesn’t mean the end, it just means you need to find a different road. We tend to place ourselves in a negative mindset about failure. Think back on your failures; would you really take any of them back? What did you gain and learn from your failures?

“Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be”

– John Wooden

5 Lessons We Can Learn from Failure

When you fail you end up learning, growing, and thriving – you gain new perspectives on the world around you. Failure forces you out of your comfort zone and challenges you to find better solutions and make greater leaps. Failure is a stepping stone. In fact, there are five very powerful life lessons that failure teaches you. If you have recently failed at something in a major way, and you’re going through a difficult time right now, keep these important lessons in mind.

Failure Lesson #1: Experience

When you go through something that may even be traumatic, and can walk away with firsthand experience, it helps you to develop a deeper understanding for life. The experience of failing at something is truly invaluable. It completely alters your frame-of-mind through the induction of pain. It makes you reflect on the real nature of things and their importance in your life, transforming and improving your future self. The knowledge gained from experiencing failure is invaluable. It shows you what not to do next time.

Failure Lesson #2: Character

Adversity makes you stronger. With each loss and subsequent comeback, there’s an opportunity to enable a growth mindset by optimising, improving and becoming better equipped to succeed. Winning can breed complacency. When you win on a regular basis, you can fall into a false sense of security where its difficult to sustain the same energy needed to continually dominate. The threat of losing can help you intensify your drive to keep you humble, hungry and motivated. When you are overconfident, you prepare differently.

Failure Lesson #3: Resilience

Failing builds resilience. The more you fail, the more resilient you become. In spite of how it may seem from the outside looking in, no one is ever handed success on a silver platter. In order to achieve great success, you must know resilience. If you think you’re going to succeed on the first try, or even the first few tries, then life has news for you. Resilience helps to breed success by setting you up for the long game. Gone are the lofty expectations that things will magically happen overnight. And in comes the expectation that true success will take an enormous amount of work and effort… along with the occasional bit of luck. Otherwise, everyone would be doing it!

Failure Lesson #4: Growth

When you fail, you grow and mature as a human being. You reach deeper meanings and understanding about your life and why you’re doing what you’re doing. This helps you reflect and take things into perspective. In this way, you can develop meaning from painful situations. Life is designed for you to grow and improve. From your individual DNA that makes you who you are, through to the fabric of society on a global scale, growth is fundamental to our evolution.

Failure Lesson #5: Value

Value lies at the heart of success and a lack of value is a fundamental pillar to failure. In thinking about your past failures, think about how much value you brought to the table. Could you have offered more value? Would that have prevented failure? When you learn to create and spread immense value, and do it consistently, you will eventually succeed.

“The phoenix must burn to emerge.” 

– Janet Fitch

Career Suicide or Calculated Risk?

Most people tend to have someone or some group holding the measuring stick of success for their career. This could be anyone from family, friends, and colleagues or even strangers on the internet. So when you fail, you equate it to being rejected by these people or groups. There must be millions of executives who are wildly successful but still not successful enough for their dad. They could have bank accounts full of money and a pool room full of accolades, and still not feel good enough because it doesn’t measure up to whoever is holding their measuring stick. We don’t always recognise it, but when we subconsciously connect our success with our belonging, we assign ourselves an unachievable goal. We are basically agreeing to mental abuse and the abuser is the person in the mirror.

Don’t make it personal.  Separate the failure from your identity. Just because you haven’t found a successful way of doing something (yet) doesn’t mean you are a failure.  These are completely separate thoughts, yet many of us blur the lines between them.  Personalising failure can wreak havoc on your self-esteem and confidence. Many people fear failure, which can hold them back from embracing change or trying new things. Taking risks is often viewed as career suicide. In order to use failure as the fuel for success, the willingness to take risks is a prerequisite. However, most people believe that puts their job in jeopardy – no bonuses, no promotions, no trips. Here’s the thing: innovation is the lifeblood of any thriving organisation, and you can’t innovate without taking a risk. Ironically, people often don’t take a risk because they’re afraid of what will happen to their career, but what will happen to your career if you don’t take a risk? The pandemic is a great example that the fruits of reward lie in the risks we take on planting seeds on uncertain ground.

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” 

– Ken Robinson

3 Ways to Manage Failure

We don’t always get back up as quickly as we’d like. Some falls hurt more than others. Some knock the wind out of you, and you have to catch your breath before you can move again. And that’s okay. Just don’t give up on yourself. Failure is part of the creation process. How you mentally frame the inevitable setbacks you face in life is the key to building grit and resilience and ultimately achieving success.

1. Acknowledge failure wholeheartedly

When you accept your mistake, you grasp the reality around it. False justification blurs this reality and drapes it in harmful fantasy.  When you show your vulnerability, you exhibit your humanness. You immediately become a receptacle others can trust to pour their shortcomings into. In other words, you instantly become more approachable. When you can admit a mistake, you show strength and you prevent the situation from snowballing into something much bigger and less manageable.

2. Don’t assign a fixed meaning to failure

The English language is complicated. There is no such thing as “absolute meaning.” Often, it’s a matter of opinions, observations, interpretations, and perspectives. We can all agree that the world is dynamic. If you stop attaching fixed meanings to experiences, you will be able to keep a better tab on your mistakes, failures, and accomplishments. What you believe is true for you, irrespective of the actual truth.

3. Be creative around failures

One of Massimo Bottura’s employees dropped a dish that stained an expensive carpet. Bottura, owner of Michelin three-star restaurant Osteria Francescana, did not scold him nor cut his pay. Instead, he created a new dish called “Oops! I dropped the lemon tart.” This is an example of being impossibly creative around failure. You might appreciate a great book, a classic movie, or an intelligent design. What these all have in common is that they are all finished products. We enjoyed watching Finding Nemo without ever imagining that in the draft stage – not realising that in over 125,000 sketches, most of them did not make the final cut.

Only by being creative around failure can we get a Jackson Pollock 360-degree view of it. Pollock was the first guy to paint with his canvas on the floor. This way, he could move around his painting, thereby gaining a 360-degree perspective. Sometimes, for all we know, success may lie only one degree beyond our angle of visibility. Failure is just one more plan that didn’t work. And when “one more plan” becomes many in succession, something starts clicking. Something beautiful emerges. 

“Winners are not afraid of losing. But losers are. Failure is part of the process of success. People who avoid failure also avoid success.” 

– Robert T. Kiyosaki

5 Ways to Recover from Failure

There are many ways to recover from failure. Once you understand what failure is, and how it’s meant to serve you rather than hinder you, you’ll free your mind and open your heart to experience the joy of failure. Yes – Joy. When you just took an “L”, it’s hard to immediately recognise the importance of it. But, that is exactly what you need to do.

#1 – Ignore the Haters

When you fail, there will be the people telling you, “I told you so,” and, “You should have listened to me.” Ignore those people. Ignore the naysayers. Living a life that’s completely safe all the time, isn’t really living… it’s fake living on the surface…. Snorefest!

#2 – Give Yourself Permission to Fail

One of the best ways to recover from failure is to understand that it’s OK to fail. If you were to conduct any number of searches on the Web, you would find countless stories about failure from the world’s most successful people. It’s okay to fail. Keep failing over and over again if you have to. Keep on doing it until you succeed. Success will taste so much sweeter when you reach it. Pushing forward and not giving up is quite possibly one of the best ways to recover from failure. Remember, it’s not true failure unless you throw in that proverbial towel and wholeheartedly give up forever.

#3 – Using Failure as Leverage

If you’ve failed in life, you can use that as leverage to not only recover from it, but to help propel you forward in the future. Failure can be a great platform for growth that is simply unmatched. To leverage your failures, illuminate them in your mind. Write down what you failed at and why you failed – make sure this is not an excuse but a root cause analysis. With true passion, you cannot fail. Did your goals have deep enough meaning in the past? What could you have done differently? How will you tackle those failures in the future when you’re faced with them? How will you learn from the past to help shape a bigger and brighter future? Failure isn’t the end of the road as long as you don’t give up. If you still believe in your goals, you can use the failure as leverage to push through the old limitations of your past.

#4 – Revisit Your Goals

Did you have clear and concrete goals in the past? Did you set goals the SMARTER way? Revisit your goals from the past and look at just how clear you were with your goals. Were they precise and exact? Did you visualise them in your mind? Were you truly passionate about them? Did you feel the emotion associated with achieving them? Sometimes, failure results from not setting goals the right way. Not only must we set goals the right way, but we must track and analyse them on a monthly, weekly, and daily basis. To recover from failure, revisit your goals and redefine them. Spend the time necessary to analyse and adjust where necessary.

#5 – Create a Massive Action Plan

When you want to get from A to B, the first thing you do is consult a MAP. When you want to recover from failure,  you must create a Massive Action Plan. Take your goals and map out a plan as to how you’re going to achieve them. What will you do in the face of the next failure? What points in the plan can you lock in past successes, saving your progress so you don’t have to start from scratch? When you have a Massive Action Plan, you have a systematic way of achieving your goals in spite of any future failures. Once you come to the realisation that those goals won’t be simple to achieve, you can approach things with a long-term growth mindset.

“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” 

– Napoleon Hill

Passion in Action

Obsessing over your failure will not change the outcome. In fact, it will only intensify the outcome, trapping you in an emotional doom-loop that disables you from moving on. You cannot change the past, but you can create your future. The faster you take a positive step forward, the quicker you can leave these debilitating, monopolising thoughts behind. Often our fear of failure is rooted in our fear of being judged and losing others’ respect and esteem. We easily get influenced (and spooked) by what people say about us. Remember, this is your life, not theirs.  What one person considers to be true about you is not necessary the truth about you, and if you give too much power to others’ opinions, it could douse your passion and confidence, undermining your ability to ultimately succeed.

Failure is a better alternative than regret. Would you rather regret what never happened, or would you rather learn and grow and become successful through failing on your way to the top? At least with the failure option, you are that much closer to achieving your goal. Failure also gives you true confidence rather than false confidence. Successes that are too easy often leave lots of room for failure because easy success can create the illusion that nothing can go wrong. Failure is a powerful tool for understanding how to lock in your past success, this leveraging even more future success. Regrets don’t provide opportunities. Failures do. 

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

– Winston Churchill

Everything Counts. Everything Matters

Appreciate your opportunities, even if they’re small. Make every step count. One can hardly find a historic or current-day success story that isn’t also a story of a string of failures. And if you ask those who have distinguished themselves through their achievements, they will tell you that failure was a critical enabler of their success. It was their motivator; their teacher.  A stepping stone along their path to greatness. The difference between them and the average person is that they did not give up.

“What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?”

– John Green


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