There Is No Progress Without Struggle

Constant effort and frequent mistakes have almost always preceded phenomenal success.

If you interview some truly successful individuals, you’ll learn that none of them were “overnight successes.” Their “recognized” success came after lots of work and lots of setbacks. In fact, it was their failures, mistakes, and setbacks that taught them how to do it better the next time around.

Unfortunately, our culture has a deep disrespect for mistakes. It’s like the sign I saw on one boss’s 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 persistance.” 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.

I think it makes a lot more sense to EXPECT A FEW FAILURES ON THE HARD ROAD TO SUCCESS. 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. 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.

On the other hand, A WINNER DOES NOT LET A MOMENTARY FAILURE BECOME A PERMANENT EXCUSE FOR QUITTING. He 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. WINNERS USE FAILURE AS A COMPASS, TELLING THEM WHERE TO GO AND NOT TO GO. They 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.”

Action:  Pick a recent “failure” in your life, and ask yourself how you responded to that failure. Did you use it as an excuse for quitting or as a compass that pointed out a new direction?