For most things in life, you have to fail – and fail many times – before you achieve your goal. Sometimes it means sticking to your goal and trying many, many times. Occasionally it means trying something, and if it fails, switching gears to try it differently or try something new.
You may have heard the mantra “fail often and fail quickly” – the point being that you have to stretch yourself, expand your boundaries. Doing so will accomplish many things:
- You’ll try more things – if you aren’t afraid to fail, you’ll attempt more; if you fail quickly, you’ll have more total attempts which means more overall successes
- You’ll learn to stop wasting time on efforts that aren’t worth it – if that goal isn’t that important to you you’ll stop after the first time you fail; if it is important to you, you’ll keep trying
- You’ll learn from your mistakes (yes, that’s a cliché) – every time you fail, if you’re smart, you learn something that helps you either succeed the next time you try or gives you insight into a new and different goal that you value more
- When you do achieve, you’ll appreciate it more – succeeding after failure tastes much sweeter than the easy successes; though I’m not a fan of intentionally failing or anything, nor do I advocate taking the hard path just to “build character”
There are very few successes without failures. Take basketball great Michael Jordan. Do you know how many times he missed shots? He’s missed more shots than I’ve even attempted. A constant refrain from parents of elementary school basketball players is “I wish they were less afraid to just take some shots”. Lesson: life is a numbers game.
Does this mean you should bang your head against a wall and fail repeatedly in the delusional hope that you’ll eventually win? Of course not. You need so see measureable progress. The young Michael Jordan, even when failing and missing shots and losing games, was able to see his own progress. The pro Michael Jordan was able to make more shots than he missed and win more than he lost. Lesson: you need a way to measure progress, or lack thereof.
I’ve started several companies in my life. One recent effort involved selling someone else’s product in an industry/market I didn’t really understand. After several months, I still wasn’t making any money. And I was wasting my time because there were several other opportunities I had that were being neglected. I didn’t give up soon enough because I didn’t want to fail. After many more months, I finally through in the towel and the next thing I started was much more successful. Lesson: recognize failure and don’t let your ego interfere because success may be hidden behind a different rock.
Imagine a child learning to walk. He takes that first step, and immediately falls. Does he say “Wow, this is too tough. I think I’ll stick with crawling.”? No, he tries again. He really has no other option and doesn’t even consider giving up forever on his dream of walking. Lesson: for life’s most important goals, never ever give up.
What lessons do you have about failure that you are willing to share?