To achieve the greatest success, you have to embrace the prospect of failure.
The sweetest victory is the one that’s most difficult. The one that requires you to reach down deep inside, to fight with everything you’ve got, to be willing to leave everything out there on the battlefield—without knowing, until that do-or-die moment, if your heroic effort will be enough. Society doesn’t reward defeat, and you won’t find many failures documented in history books.
The exceptions are those failures that become steppingstones to later success. Such is the case with Thomas Edison, whose most memorable invention was the light bulb, which purportedly took him 1,000 tries before he developed a successful prototype. “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” a reporter asked. “I didn’t fail 1,000 times,” Edison responded. “The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
Unlike Edison, many of us avoid the prospect of failure. In fact, we’re so focused on not failing that we don’t aim for success, settling instead for a life of mediocrity. When we do make missteps, we gloss over them, selectively editing out the miscalculations or mistakes in our life’s résumé. “Failure is not an option,” NASA flight controller Jerry C. Bostick reportedly stated during the mission to bring the damaged Apollo 13 back to Earth, and that phrase has been etched into the collective memory ever since. To many in our success-driven society, failure isn’t just considered a non-option—it’s deemed a deficiency, says Kathryn Schulz, author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. “Of all the things we are wrong about, this idea of error might well top the list,” Schulz says. “It is our meta-mistake: We are wrong about what it means to be wrong. Far from being a sign of intellectual inferiority, the capacity to err is crucial to human cognition.”
Related:10 Things Successful People Never Do Again
Failure Is Life’s Greatest Teacher
When we take a closer look at the great thinkers throughout history, a willingness to take on failure isn’t a new or extraordinary thought at all. From the likes of Augustine, Darwin and Freud to the business mavericks and sports legends of today, failure is as powerful a tool as any in reaching great success. “Failure and defeat are life’s greatest teachers [but] sadly, most people, and particularly conservative corporate cultures, don’t want to go there,” says Ralph Heath, managing partner of Synergy Leadership Group and author of Celebrating Failure: The Power of Taking Risks, Making Mistakes and Thinking Big. “Instead they choose to play it safe, to fly below the radar, repeating the same safe choices over and over again. They operate under the belief that if they make no waves, they attract no attention; no one will yell at them for failing because they generally never attempt anything great at which they could possibly fail (or succeed).”
However, in today’s post-recession economy, some employers are no longer shying away from failure—they’re embracing it. According to a recent article in BusinessWeek, many companies are deliberately seeking out those with track records reflecting both failure and success, believing that those who have been in the trenches, survived battle and come out on the other side have irreplaceable experience and perseverance.
“The quickest road to success is to possess an attitude toward failure of ‘no fear.’ ”
They’re veterans of failure. The prevailing school of thought in progressive companies—such as Intuit, General Electric, Corning and Virgin Atlantic—is that great success depends on great risk, and failure is simply a common byproduct. Executives of such organizations don’t mourn their mistakes but instead parlay them into future gains. “The quickest road to success is to possess an attitude toward failure of ‘no fear,’ ” says Heath. “To do their work well, to be successful and to keep their companies competitive, leaders and workers on the front lines need to stick their necks out a mile every day.
They have to deliver risky, edgy, breakthrough ideas, plans, presentations, advice, technology, products, leadership, bills and more. And they have to deliver all this fearlessly—without any fear whatsoever of failure, rejection or punishment.”
Reaching Your Potential
The same holds true for personal quests, whether in overcoming some specific challenge or reaching your full potential in all aspects of life. To achieve your personal best, to reach unparalleled heights, to make the impossible possible, you can’t fear failure, you must think big, and you have to push yourself. When we think of people with this mindset, we imagine the daredevils, the pioneers, the inventors, the explorers: They embrace failure as a necessary step to unprecedented success. But you don’t have to walk a tightrope, climb Mount Everest or cure polio to employ this mindset in your own life.
When the rewards of success are great, embracing possible failure is key to taking on a variety of challenges, whether you’re reinventing yourself by starting a new business or allowing yourself to trust another person to build a deeper relationship. “To achieve any worthy goal, you must take risks,” says writer and speaker John C. Maxwell. In his book Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success, he points to the example of legendary aviator Amelia Earhart, who set several records and achieved many firsts in her lifetime, including being the first female pilot to fly solo over the Atlantic Ocean.
Although her final flight proved fateful, Maxwell believes she knew the risk—and that the potential reward was worth it. “[Earhart’s] advice when it came to risk was simple and direct: ‘Decide whether or not the goal is worth the risks involved. If it is, stop worrying.’ ” Of course, the risks you take should be calculated; you shouldn’t fly blindly into the night and simply hope for the best. Achieving the goal or at least waging a heroic effort requires preparation, practice and some awareness of your skills and talents.
Easing Into a Fearless Mindset
“One of the biggest secrets to success is operating inside your strength zone but outside of your comfort zone.”
“One of the biggest secrets to success is operating inside your strength zone but outside of your comfort zone,” Heath says. Although you might fail incredibly, you might succeed incredibly—and that’s why incredible risk and courage are requisite. Either way, you’ll learn more than ever about your strengths, talents and resolve, and you’ll strengthen your will for the next challenge. If this sounds like dangerous territory, it can be. But there are ways to ease into this fearless mindset.
Related:21 Quotes About Failing Fearlessly
Maintain a Positive Attitude
The first is to consciouslya mintain a positive attitude so that, no matter what you encounter, you’ll be able to see the lessons of the experience and continue to push forward. “It’s true that not everyone is positive by nature,” says Maxwell, who cites his father as someone who would describe himself as a negative person by nature. “Here’s how my dad changed his attitude. First he made a choice: He continually chooses to have a positive attitude.
Reading and Listening to Motivational Material
Second, he’s continually reading and listening to materials that bolster that attitude. For example, he’s read The Power of Positive Thinking many times. I didn’t get it at first, so once I asked him why. His response: ‘Son, I need to keep filling the tank so I can stay positive.’ ” Heath recommends studying the failures and subsequent reactions of successful people and, within a business context, repeating such histories for others. “Reward them and applaud their efforts in front of the entire organization so everyone understands it is OK to fail.
So employees say to themselves, ‘I see that Bill, the vice president of widgets, who the president adores, failed, and he is not only back at work, but he is driving a hot new sports car. I can fail and come to work the next day. Bill is proof of it.’ ” Finally, Heath stays motivated by the thought that, “if I become complacent and don’t take risks, someone will notice what I am doing and improve upon my efforts over time, and put me out of work. You’ve got to keep finding better ways to run your life, or someone will take what you’ve accomplished, improve upon it, and be very pleased with the results. Keep moving forward or die.”
Related:Fail Often and Fast
Seth Godin: ‘I’ve Failed Way More Times Than I’ve Succeeded’
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in September 2010 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Essay on Failure
Most people fail at some point in their lives. It’s a necessary and fundamental part of life. People have to generally fail at something before they find success – even though failure can be defined as a lack of success, an unsuccessful person, enterprise or thing, a lack or deficiency of a desirable quality. But failure is not a means to an end, nor does failure have to give any indication of permanence. What is permanent is not getting started in the first place out of fear of failure. To fail is to fail to hit one’s target, whatever it may be, but it doesn’t prevent one from trying again.
A lot of times, a person fails because they failed to adequately prepare for success. This extends to all aspects of life that people want to improve upon relationships, career-related objectives, and personal achievements. Most people want to a better life, have goals and things they want to do in life. A good deal of time and effort go into preparing for something important – any important undertaking. It seems that many people pursue success half-heartedly, with little effort and preparation, and they wonder why the fail. Preparation is the key to avoiding failure, or it at the very least minimizes one’s chances of failing. But it’s not always a certainty.
To lessen the likelihood of failure, one has to do things to maximize their probability of success. This can be changing one’s daily lifestyle habits, for one example. A person focused on accomplishing something, on creating success, will have to dedicate their free time to this cause. This means early nights and even earlier mornings, staying home and working instead of going out and spending money or wasting one’s time. Failure can often be attributed to a lack of commitment to success. Everyone – well, perhaps most people – strive for success. People as a whole don’t strive to fail at things in life. They generally want to excel at them.
Lifestyle habits are important when considering their effect on failure, but one’s mental habits are also a key part of success. A person convinced of their success, or that it will assuredly happen in the near future, will most likely be successful in life. They are seeing their success, what it looks and feels like, play out in their minds. This is the start of the Law of Attraction at work. The Law of Attraction is a theory arguing that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts, a person can bring about positive or negative results. If a person yearns for success, thinks about it, dreams about it, always has their mind on it, the better their chances will be for them achieving success. This means they will be less likely to fail later.
Failure can also be prevented with the right kind of foresight. It is a highly discussed and much-believed notion that a person’s success occurs in direct proportion to their ability to see how everything, every decision that is being made right now, affects their life down the road. People who are prone to failure live mostly for the day, or the next few days, and they neglect to consider the future – even the distant future. This is probably one of the strongest indicators of whether a person will fail or succeed in life.
Success – in whatever form – is not an easy thing to come about, to find. Rather it is created from lots of hard work, preparation, persistence and unrelenting confidence. Failure, on the other hand, results from a lack of these things. To conclude, failure is the absence of success, and failure is also not a means to an end, but an opportunity to learn from failure. Everybody fails at some point in their lives. What matters most is moving forward and never giving up on success. It will happen soon enough despite failure.
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