Failure sucks! Pardon my honesty, but I can’t think of a single person who likes to fail. It’s painful. It’s embarrassing. It is to be avoided at all costs. Right? Well, good luck with that.
#1. You will fail. Failure is mandatory, not optional.
#2. There can be no success without failure. Failure is learning.
Standing Upright and Moving Forward
If you’ve ever watched children learning to walk, you know that they do a great deal of falling down! They stand, wobble, and fall. They pull themselves up, and fall again, and again, bumping their heads and skinning their knees.
Yet their enthusiasm is unwavering. They keep trying until they master the task of standing upright and moving forward.
We learn to ride a bike, ice skate, and ski by falling down. If we keep trying, most of us master these skills. So instead of calling it falling down, maybe we should call it falling up.
“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill
Each time a child falls he gathers some bit of information he can use on the next attempt. He doesn’t focus on the failure; he just keeps trying. As adults, we can do the same thing.
Unfortunately by the time we reach adulthood, we have been trained to think of failure as bad and shameful. We forget what we intrinsically knew as children.
Of course, the stakes can be higher. Adult failures can involve losing jobs, money, relationships, and reputation. Still, it’s worth remembering rule #1. Failure is not optional. It happens to us all at some time. Stand up and move forward!
A Story of Failure
It is possible to look back on our failures and see the benefits. Here’s one of my failure stories. I have many, many stories of failure. But this one will do for now.
Once upon a time in a land far, far away I was a freshman in college. I needed two years of a foreign language to meet one of the many graduation requirements. I registered for German; it was part of my heritage and I’d been to Germany the previous summer. It seemed like a fit.
The instructor was a graduate assistant: fluent, intelligent, serious, and intimidating. He covered each lesson required to prepare us for the final exam. But I just couldn’t seem to get it. It was so hard!
I spent more hours studying German than any other subject that semester. And it wasn’t even my major! At the end of the semester I got my grade, a big fat D.
I was mortified and scared. Maybe I wasn’t college material? I’d been an honors student in high school. I wasn’t used to failure. On top of that, I was on academic scholarship, which this grade had put in jeopardy. So I really had little choice but to repeat the class in hopes of bringing up my grade.
The next semester I started over, first semester German. I was terrified. But this time the instructor was fun, answered our questions, gave examples, explained how German grammar related to and was different from English grammar. He encouraged us to speak (something the first instructor never did), and to laugh and learn from our mistakes. At the end of the semester I got my grade, a big fat A.
Lessons learned: When you fail, don’t give up. Don’t assume you can’t succeed. Try again. Try a different method, a different approach, a different teacher!
I would have never guessed that an A in German was possible based on my first experience. The truth was that the first instructor was not a good fit for my style of learning. It wasn’t that I couldn’t learn German, I just couldn’t learn it from him.
Leverage what you learn: Because it was so much fun the second time around, I went on to take three more years of German, one year of French, and a semester of Arabic. And, I picked up a second major, earning a degree in Spanish. I learned that I have a natural aptitude for languages. And being able to communicate in multiple languages has given me an advantage throughout my career.
Imagine if I had let that first failure stop me!
We must look at failure as learning. Without failure there is no growth. When we stumble, we just might fall into the next realm of possibilities, the next great opportunity.
So next time you fail at something, think of it as an opportunity to “fall up”. What can you take away? Is it worth trying again? What will you do differently next time?
Like the baby learning to walk, we all stumble and get the occasional bruise. But the real danger lies in losing our enthusiasm. Next time you fail, I hope you fall up.
Do you have stories of falling up? Share your comments. I’d love to hear from you.