“When achievers fail, they see it as a momentary event, not a lifelong epidemic,” stated John Maxwell in his book, Failing Forward. This is a mindset we desperately need in our culture today, whereas we see failure as akin to some kind of plague. Parents go to great lengths to protect their children from failure. Our education system forces teachers to do everything except lie to protect students from failing a class.
We easily forget the failures of many famous names: Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jordan, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs. These achievers didn’t let their failures define them and went on to great success. Are we dealing with failure all wrong? How can we capitalize on our failures to spur future success?
Once, I competed in the open flight of a tennis tournament in Orlando, FL. There are a couple things you should know before I go on. First, open flights of tournaments are meant for really good players, like high-level collegiate contenders and tennis instructors. Second, I was an awkward 13 year-old tennis convert eager to finally play some real matches. Are you seeing the recipe for disaster?
What I didn’t know didn’t hurt me until I met my first opponent, a nationally ranked, Division I beast of a player. Allow me to let you in on a little secret: I didn’t win a single point in the match. That’s what some call an epic fail.
To be honest, I’m not new to failure. I’ve failed in multiple areas during my life. Those failures weren’t easy to swallow when they happened. However, what matters aren’t the failures, but what they’ve made possible. The reality is that how you interpret a mistake, failure or setback sets your trajectory. Either you quit, keep failing or grow. The choice is yours.
We can all learn from failure and cultivate future success by applying these 3 truths.
Failure Isn’t Final
“Success isn’t permanent, and failure isn’t fatal,” according to a quote most commonly attributed to Winston Churchill. We all make mistakes, mess up, and blow it. Keeping a thick skin isn’t easy, but it is necessary. When we let our failures define us, we blow them out of proportion and begin to think counterproductive thoughts like, “Wow, maybe people were right, I am a failure.”
The truth is, failure isn’t final. Don’t allow it to rob you of confidence, enthusiasm and motivation. Instead, see it as a single event, this thing that happened once that you don’t intend to repeat. Failure is the beginning of a new chapter, not the end of the story. That gruesome massacre that occurred on a tennis court in Orlando wasn’t the final page in my racquet swinging saga. It was just a bump on the road to success.
Failure Is Controllable
It is important to take responsibility for our failures. If we don’t, we give away all control. Referees, understaffed, weather, baby kept me up all night… If you think these sound like excuses, you’re right. Admittedly, other factors do work against us sometimes, but it does us no good to give them our attention. (See link to a previous post below.)
In order to learn and grow from failures we have to be willing to take a hard look in the mirror. Maybe we weren’t prepared enough, focused enough, didn’t communicate effectively or just choked the under pressure. The reality is, these are all things that we have control over.
Failure Holds The Juice Of Success
Visualize a large, juicy Florida orange. If you were to cut it in half and squeeze the fresh, tart juice into a glass, what’s left in your hand? Garbage. Technically, the peel and flesh of the orange are left, but I’m no chef, so zesting isn’t really my thing. You don’t want to stand there holding that sticky mess for very long do you? No, of course not. Throw it away or compost it. Now, you’re left with a tangy glass of juice.
Translation: squeeze your failures and get all the useful, actionable, controllable goodness out of them. What can you learn from the failure? Once you’ve analyzed it and gathered the lessons learned (aka the juice in the glass), throw away the peel and quit ruminating on the failure.
Holding onto the sticky mess causes us to lose sleep at night and creates unnecessary stress and raised blood pressure. Keep the good stuff, the lessons learned and chuck the rest, it’s only weighing you down. Why walk around with an orange peel in your pocket?
I have blown presentations, messed up relationships, let people down, quit playing guitar and failed in numerous other ways. But none of them were final; the story continues. All of them are controllable. It is up to me to squeeze out the juice and toss the rest. The more readily I do that, the faster I move on to future successes.
And so it is for you. Fail. Juice it. Then, move on to the success that lies ahead.
Question: How have you used your failures to create future success? I’d love to hear from your experiences in the comments below.
- Book: Failing Forward by John C. Maxwell
- Post: Let Go Of What You Can’t Control And Reap Massive Rewards