Our culture and most organizations have a deep disrespect for failure. But that, in itself, is a mistake.
It’s like the sign I saw on one boss’ desk: “Do you like to travel? Do you like to meet new friends? Would you like to free up your future? All this can be yours if you make just one more mistake!”
In another company, I read a sign saying, “Failure: The line of least persistence.” That could be true in some cases. Some people fail because they’re just plain lazy. But it would be a mistake to lump all failures into that category.
Sometimes mistakes and failures just happen. Even though your intentions are good and your efforts are strong, some things just don’t turn out the way you would like them to.
Indeed, if you interview truly successful people, almost all of them talk about the fact that their success came after lots of failures. In fact, it was their failures, handled properly, that taught them how to do it better the next time around.
So what does it take to handle failures … properly? You’ll find an entire section on that in my book, PIVOT: How One Turn in Attitude Leads to Success. Click here to get your copy. In the mean time, here are a few tips you can put to use right now.
1. Expect a few failures on the hard road to success.
As the great opera singer, Beverly Sills, said, “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”
The most important thing is how you respond to your setbacks and failures. A loser thinks because he failed, he’s a failure. So he stops trying — which means he also stops learning. Author John Gardner says,
“One of the reasons mature people stop learning is that they become less and less willing to risk failure.”
When failures come, losers defend their behavior. They act like the annoyed driver who was pulled over by a patrolman. He said, “Why can’t you people get organized? One day you take away my license and the next day you ask to see it.”
Losers also take a fatalistic viewpoint with regard to failure. One pessimist carries a card that says, “In case of accident, I’m not surprised.”
And losers like to blame others for their failures. When one Dad asked his fighting sons what was going on, one son said, “Well Dad, it all started when Tommy hit me back.” No responsibility, just blame.
Forget those approaches. Expect a few failures in life … and deal with them!
2. Do not let a momentary failure become a permanent excuse for quitting.
A winner simply accepts failure as part of the process that inevitably leads to success.
Les Brown’s eleven-year old son illustrated the point. The two of them were playing a board game and for ten games straight, Les won every one of them. Finally, Les said, “Son, it’s getting late. Time for bed.”
The boy pleaded, “Aw, Dad. Just one more game.” But Dad kept insisting it was time for bed.
The light bulb came on, however, when his son countered, “Dad, you don’t understand! It ain’t over until I win!” Now that’s wisdom.
And it’s also character. As James Michener said, “Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries.” Indeed! Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.”
Winners don’t like to fail. No one does. But winners are not permanently deflated by failure.
3. Use failure as a compass, telling where to go and not to go.
Winners use failure like a map, using the failures to point out dead ends and blind alleys.
That’s how Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb. After some 10,000 experiments and no workable bulb, a reporter asked him how he felt about failing 10,000 times. He said, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have successfully found 10,000 ways not to do it.”
He knew how to use “failure” as a compass, and if you do the same thing, you’ll find the right direction and have phenomenal success. It’s like an old Buddhist saying, “If you are facing in the right direction, all you need to do is keep on walking.”
4. Do not blame others for your failures.
I know, it sounds corny, but blame is lame because it doesn’t work. You can blame someone or something all day long and all life long, but it doesn’t change anything. You’re still stuck in the same predicament.
And yes, I realize life isn’t fair. Some people have more than their share of difficulties, and some people get more breaks than they deserve.
And yes, it may not have been your choice to get knocked down, but it is your choice whether or not you try to get back up.
I remember one set of identical twins that were raised by an almost constantly drunk alcoholic father. At age fourteen the twins were sent to separate foster homes, not to be reunited for some thirty years.
When they were brought together at age 44, they were interviewed on a TV talk show. One of the twins had become an alcoholic like his father, while the other one had become a teetotaler. When the TV host asked them why they turned out the way they did, they both gave the same answer. Each of them said, “What do you expect? How could I turn out any differently considering the father I had?”
The first one blamed his father’s alcoholism for his own failures in life. He used that as a reason to give up. But the second twin used the father’s example as a reason to get going. Simply put, it wasn’t so much their difficulty that made the difference in life. It was their response to the difficulty that made them a winner or a loser.
In my new program, Up Your Attitude: 6 Secrets That Turn Potential In To Performance, I’ll teach you how to master this skill.
You absolutely must refuse to blame anyone or anything for your problems or your failing situation. That’s not easy. And it’s not natural. After all, your company, your boss, your parents, your friends, and your spouse might even deserve some blame.
As I said before, this approach doesn’t work. It doesn’t change anything and it doesn’t make anything better. All blame can do is keep you stuck or make you spiteful.
Take your job, for example. Maybe you feel stuck in a job that is going nowhere, or maybe you think your company is doing nothing to invest in your career development. A loser could spend hours in the employee lounge talking about those issues, blaming the boss or the company.
Or maybe you feel slighted when it comes to education. You never had the chance to get the schooling you wanted. As one person said, “When I went to school, all I had was a pencil and the kid next to me. And I think if he’d really applied himself, I could have been somebody.”
Even though blame may be justified, don’t do it. Just accept the fact that some days you are the pigeon and some days you’re the statue.
Failures will happen. But your success will be determined by how you respond to those failures.
Final Thought: Constant effort and frequent mistakes have almost always preceded phenomenal success.