We’ve all heard the cliché’s around success and failure. One in particular that stands out in my mind is “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” The reason I find this particular inspirational quote interesting is the implication of trying again more than once. In other words, don’t just try again if at first you don’t succeed but keep trying until you do!
Most people wouldn’t believe that a man like Michael Jordan, one of the best basketball players of all time, was actually cut from his high school basketball team. Luckily, Jordan didn’t let this setback stop him from playing the game and he has stated, “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Failure is not the opposite of success; it is just a step on the way to success. If success is reached without some level of failure, it is not really a true success but rather a freak accident; and most likely, at some point it is highly probably that a failure of some sort will arise. This unofficial law of success is due to our innate need as humans for some sort of a learning curve in order to develop knowledge, wisdom, lessons and ultimately the right formula for success.
As humans, we are not born capable of caring for ourselves. We are born in need of constant care for several years. This divine design allows us the opportunity to learn. Over time we not only learn how to care for ourselves, but as we formulate our intellectual personas, we learn what we like and don’t like; what we want and don’t want; what feels good and what does not; what works and what doesn’t work. In other words, we can not know what we want without knowing first what we don’t want. The same goes for any level of success; it cannot be reached without first experiencing a degree of failure which in turn teaches us what not to do again so that we can reach success. Taking this concept one step further, it would be appropriate to asses that the greater the level of failure, the greater the level of success.
Unfortunately however, our culture does not always instill this keen piece of wisdom into its youth, therefore allowing many, if not most of us to grow up feeling bad about our seeming failures. We often find ourselves dismissing an opportunity all together simply because we have failed at it once before. An interesting dynamic isn’t it? We have cultural clichés like “pick yourself up and dust yourself off” that implicate the importance to “keep on keeping on,” yet there is this great dichotomy of devaluing ourselves when we fail at something. But here is the key – the truth that will set you free on your road from failure to success – The only mistake you can truly make, is to “think” you’ve made a mistake and then judge yourself for it.
Every mistake is an opportunity to learn. What separates the forever failures from a rising phoenix success story is quite simply our willingness to observe a mistake and learn from it. Complete self honesty is absolutely imperative to this process. We also have to be willing to have a positive mind story. Here too the aspect of honesty is the truth that will set us free. If we are taping into some sob story from our past that we have painted negatively, we cannot move forward. However, we can take that same story and ask ourselves “what did I learn from that experience?” There is ALWAYS something to learn. For example, if you walk down the street, paying no attention to the pavement below, you might trip over something. You can either decide to never walk in that area again, potentially missing something spectacular, or you can recognize you tripped because you were not paying attention. You learn to pay attention and walk down that same stretch of pavement and because of actually looking down you find a $100 bill!
Now that’s a simplified example, but I think you catch the point. In case you need a little more food for thought on the matter of failure being a stepping stone towards success, here are few noted success after failure stories:
R. H. Macy: We are all familiar with this large department store chain, but Macy didn’t always have it easy. Macy started seven failed business before finally hitting big with his store in New York City.
Harland David Sanders: Also known as Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken. The Colonel had his famous secret chicken recipe rejected 1,009 times before a restaurant accepted it.
Albert Einstein: Most of us think of Einstein as a genius, but did you know he did not speak until he was four and did not read until he was seven, causing his teachers and parents to think he was mentally handicapped, slow and anti-social? Eventually, he was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the ZurichPolytechnicSchool. He proved everyone wrong and in the end, won a Nobel Prize and changed the face of modern physics.
Lucille Ball: Before starring in I Love Lucy, Ball was widely regarded as a failed actress and a B movie star. Even her drama instructors didn’t feel she could make it, telling her to try another profession. She went on to win thirteen Emmy nominations and four wins, also earning the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center Honors.
Stephen King: The first book by this author, the iconic thriller Carrie, received 30 rejections, finally causing King to give up and throw it in the trash. His wife fished it out and encouraged him to resubmit it. King is now one of the best-selling authors of all time.
Oprah Winfrey: Oprah faced a hard road to get to where she is today, enduring a rough and abusive childhood as well as numerous career setbacks including being fired from her job as a television reporter because she was “unfit for TV.”
Thomas Edison: In his early years, teachers told Edison he was “too stupid to learn anything.” He was fired from his first two jobs for not being productive enough. Even as an inventor, Edison made 10,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. Of course, all those unsuccessful attempts finally resulted in the design that worked.
I’ve actually seen conflicting numbers as it relates to exactly how many attempts Thomas Edison had at creating the light bulb. But they were all in the thousands. So, seriously, the next time you feel like quitting after failing, just think about the 9,999 failures he had. He never gave up and learned from each and every mistake. In fact, just before finally reaching success, Thomas Edison was interviewed by a young reporter who boldly asked Mr. Edison if he felt like a failure and if he thought he should just give up by now. Perplexed, Edison replied, “Young man, why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up? I now know definitively over 9,000 ways that an electric light bulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp.”
How have you overcome failure and turned the lessons into a success story? Please share with us and inspire others through your achievements.
ISES Marketing & Communications Director at Large