The Success of Failure

This is one of many posts that have been sitting unfinished in my Drafts folder for months but I was inspired Monday night by a great presentation from Peter Flaschner on the power of Passion.

I had the opportunity on Monday night to attend a great series of presentations at Refresh Events here in Toronto.  The main presentation was on Passion and how we need to embrace and nurture our passions to achieve greatness. While I do have a draft post about Passion, that’s not the focus of this post. (I’ll procrastinate on that one for another day)

Have you ever failed at something? Was it a small failure or a Huge Gigantic failure for all to see?

Failure can be an embarrassing and humiliating thing. It can cause humiliation and anxiety which can have detrimental effects on ones health. These effects fall under my categorization of bad things.  There is another side to all this failure that falls under the category of good things.

While our initial response to failure is a universal desire that a hole would open up in the floor and take us away from the situation, the real benefit from failure is embracing it and feeling the moment and making the failure a positive and great learning experience.

When you fail, it’s not necessarily about you.  It is often not a personal thing and has no bearing on you as a person so it’s important to not take failures personally. There are always exceptions and you will have to be the judge of when a failure may be personal and figure out the lesson you need to take away from it.

What is failure anyway, why do we fail? Many times, failure is a result of pushing the envelope. I watched a video produced by Honda where Indy car driver Danica Patrick explained how as a race car driver, she is trained to bump up against the outer limits of her comfort zone on a consistent basis to expand her ability to succeed.  Sometimes this can result in spectacular failure for all to see but without that push to achieve greatness, she would not be able to win Indy car races.  This is especially significant because she is a Woman competing in a sport that has been dominated by Men for as long as automobile racing has been around and has had to work harder to earn the respect of her fellow drivers.  It has paid off.

Failure is not a bad thing as long as you learn from it.  Albert Einstein said “The definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If you fail at something, be sure to learn from the failure so that you can try again and do it differently.  A fantastic example of this lesson comes from Thomas Edison who, when asked about failing so many times in his pursuit of a better filament for the light bulb said “I have not failed 10 000 times. I have successfully found 10 000 ways that will not work” (accounts of this statement vary but the general message is the same)

When we fail, it is in our best interest to examine the failure and determine the cause of the failure and learn to not make the same mistake again. True greatness comes from people who take the risks and take the chances that no one else has the courage to take.  When combined with personal belief and passion it can be an empowering and powerful thing.  I can’t think of a more appropriate example of this than Walt Disney.  When Walt had his idea for a theme park, he went looking for financing.  He approached the banks, which were all independent at the time, for money. Walt Disney was ridiculed.  The banks told him he was crazy but he had a vision.  He was persistent. He learned what resonated with the bankers and what didn’t. He would not take no for an answer.  Walt Disney was turned down 302 times and went bankrupt 5 times before he was able to convince a bank to lend him the money for Disney world.  He didn’t let small failures stand in his way. (accounts of this story vary but the general message is the same)  Today, Disney is a multinational corporation which generates more than 30 billion in revenue annually.

The other thing to remember is that you are the determining factor in your own success and that nobody can tell you that you are a failure with any authority unless you give them that power.  Some of the most successful people were branded failures by people in positions of authority at one point in their lives.

  • Albert Einstien – didn’t speak until he was 4 years old, never graduated from high school and failed his college entrance exam
  • Beethoven – His music teacher said “As a composer, he’s hopeless”
  • Isaac Newton – Was considered ‘unpromising’ by his teachers
  • Thomas Edison – Was called ‘stupid’ and ‘addled’  by his elementary school teacher
  • F.W. Woolworth – was told by an employer that he “didn’t have the sense to close a sale”
  • Michael Jordan – was cut from his sophomore basketball team
  • Walt Disney – was fired from a newspaper job because he “didn’t have any creative ideas”
  • Winston Churchill – failed grade 6
  • Babe Ruth – struck out at bat over 1300 times
  • Soichiro Honda – was rejected for a job as an engineer at Toyota after WWII

It would have been easy for these amazing people to wallow in their failures, surrender their power and go on to achieve nothing more than mediocrity but they took these events that would be seen as failures by most of us and used them as a catalyst to strive for great success.

The real lesson here is that every failure is an opportunity to grow and learn and try again.

If you have not failed, you have not explored your boundaries to find your limits.
If you have not failed, you have not grown.
If you have not failed, you have not lived.

Failure is a fact of life and true living involves risk.

Here is a great video produced by Honda on Failure and Success.  I hope it inspires you to reach beyond your boundaries and fail so you can grow to achieve greatness.

So what are you going to succeed at tomorrow?

Just a note on overcoming failure.  We are all different and overcoing failure may not be as simple as ‘just get over it and move on’. Sometimes failure can lead to depression which is a very real medical condition.  If you feel that you fall into this category, there is help available that may involve medicaton or psychological assistance.  Speak to your Doctor.