Sept. 19, 2018
Unfortunately, failure carries a negative connotation. Think back to the first time you received a bad test score or when you didn’t make the soccer team. Parents, teachers, coaches -- they all have been known to punish kids for failing. And it teaches us from an early age that failure is bad and should be avoided.
We are not born with this mindset. Have you ever met a toddler who gave up because they kept falling down? Think of how many failures it takes to learn to speak in your native tongue. Somewhere along the way, we learned that failure is synonymous with defeat; that it’s a weakness. This way of thinking can deplete us of the courage required to succeed.
Here are five ways to view failure in a healthier light.
1. Failure is an inseparable part of life, from birth to death.
One of my favorite animated movies is Meet the Robinsons. Lewis, the young boy, had invented a machine that squirts out peanut butter and jelly simultaneously onto your bread, saving you time making your PB&J sandwich. Not a bad idea for a kid. But when testing the device at dinner in front of his entire family, it backfired and covered everyone in a gooey mess.
What impressed me was their reaction. Rather than getting upset, they celebrated.
Failure was a natural part of life for the Robinsons. It’s just who they were. And the fact that Lewis was willing to fail was applauded. That characteristic alone was worth celebrating because his family knew it would only be a matter of time before he succeeded.
2. Failure is a mentor, not a monster.
Although failure can feel like a monster, nothing could be further from the truth. That way of thinking can result in a lower self esteem. You might even feel like you’re a bad person. Taking it personally means you have attached yourself to the event.
Instead, talk to failure as if it were merely an annoying person trying to get under your skin. Tell him “thank you for the lesson, you may go now.” Trivialize the experience and move on by taking immediate action toward your next goal.
There are two ways to learn -- from your mistakes and those of others. Mentors, coaches and leaders are in a position to teach because they have made the mistakes. Failing their way through is what gave them the wisdom to lead others.
When failure is viewed as a mentor, it can provide you with the most valuable education, provided you maintain a student mentality.
3. Failure is not the opposite of success. It’s a requirement for success.
While most people would consider failure the opposite of success, experienced entrepreneurs understand the two are inseparably connected -- just as you cannot arrive at the top of a mountain without traveling through the bushes, trees and boulders along the way. The obstacles are there, inherit in the journey. There’s no way around them.
It’s easy to feel like you’re the only one going through challenges. We post beautiful, polished imagery on our Instagram pages, giving our followers a warped perspective of our lives.
Take comfort in the fact that although it may not be fun, failure is the norm, not the exception. Anticipate and expect it.
4. Failure makes for the best stories.
Elon Musk failed over and over. Dave Ramsey went through the dregs of bankruptcy. Jeff Bezos' list of failures totals in the billions. Oprah Winfrey, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs have one thing in common -- failure. Yet each of them used their failures as kindling to light their fires. Not only did their failures serve to make them stronger and wiser, but it also provided a vehicle through which they could relate to their audiences: a good story.
Their stories became their stepping stones. Successful people build their empires on the backs of their failures. If you’re in chapter 11 of your failure story, just imagine how sweet it will be to watch your audience’s faces when you share it. And every time you stand up to dust yourself off and say, “That’s going to make a great story.”
5. Failure gives you the humble perspective that you still have room to grow.
Imagine the arrogance of someone who feels they have learned everything. Nobody enjoys spending time around someone like that. People want to know their leader has a few bumps and bruises of their own. Life is much more fulfilling when you’re humble enough to embrace the mindset of a student and stay open to ways you can improve.
Thanks to failure, you now have a way to keep that frame of mind.
If you can learn to see failure as an event happening to you rather than a part of you, you can separate it from your identity and learn to embrace and appreciate it. Once that shift happens, failure becomes one of your biggest allies rather than a bitter enemy.