It's Okay To Fail – It's Not Okay To Give Up

“It’s okay to fail. It is not okay to give up.”
Clare LaMeres, youth speaker

Before you think I’m bragging, read on. I have a point to make. I’ve been a professional speaker for almost 30 years, and I’ve had a great deal of success as a speaker. I’ve earned the CSP (Certified Speaking Professional) designation from the National Speakers Association, and I’ve been inducted into the Speaker Hall of Fame — an honor reserved for a mere handful of people in the last 30 years… including Ronald Reagan, Colin Powell, and Zig Ziglar. In fact there’s only 6 people in the world that have all 3 of my credentials — the CSP, the Speaker Hall of Fame, and a Ph.D. degree.

BUT, I’ve also had my share of failure. Such was the case with my first paid speaking engagement at a major fortune 500 company back in 1979. I was hired to conduct a two-day seminar… at least that’s what I thought. Two hours into the program, the boss of the group called for a break, pulled me aside, and said… in effect… that I was a terrible speaker… offering none of the content he wanted. He proceeded to take over and teach the seminar for the next two days… as he relegated me to a seat in the back row. Talk about humiliation and failure.

I could have shut down my new, budding career as a professional speaker. I could have closed shop and gone back to a “safer” career. But I was lucky. I had a father who had taught me that even though I might fail at certain things in life, I was not a failure. I knew it was okay to fail, but it wasn’t okay to give up.

And when you think about it, so much of the good in our world is due to people who did not give up. Just imagine what our world would be missing if Thomas Edison had given up after his first unsuccessful experiment in trying to make an electric light bulb. Imagine how landlocked we would be if Wilbur and Orville Wright had given up after their first failed attempt at flight. Imagine how backward we would be if Martin Luther King had given up after he was told his “dream” was impossible. And imagine the non-existence of the U.S. of A. if George Washington had given up. After all, he had every reason to quit… because he lost every battle… except the last one.

As Clare LaMeres says, “The fact is, every wonderful invention, every widely held positive belief turned into positive action is the direct result of someone who did not give up.”

It’s also a fact that you’re going to fail once in a while… no matter how hard you try not to fail. Everybody fails. Yes, everybody. The important thing is… how you respond to your failure. I’ve found that the winners in life do several things.

=> 1. Winners see failure as normal.

Perhaps you remember the Michael Jordan commercial. You see him striding through the back hallways of the stadium where he was a part of the world champion Chicago Bulls basketball team. And then you hear Michael say, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my life. I’ve lost over 300 games. Thirty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot… and missed. I have failed over and over again in my life. And that is why… I SUCCEED!”

In essence, Michael was saying, “It’s okay to fail. It’s not okay to give up.”

But I suspect Michael was also saying that failure is simply a part of the journey on your road to success. As psychologist and TV personality Dr. Joyce Brothers says, “The person interested in success has to learn to view failure as a healthy, inevitable part of the process of getting to the top.”

=> 2. Winners see the positive value of failure.

In other words, winners learn from their failures, apply their learnings, and get better… the next time around. As speaker Simon T. Bailey says, “Failure is only feedback. And feedback is a blessing.”

By contrast, when losers fail, they just give up. They don’t realize the wisdom shared by Pat Mitchell, the CEO of The Museum of Television and Radio. As Mitchell states, “My grandpa always used to say that falling on your face is the first step forward.”

So please… don’t disparage failure. Handled right, it could be your surest ticket to success. As Samuel Smiles wrote, “It is a mistake to suppose that men succeed through success; they much oftener succeed through failures. Precept, study, advice and example could never have taught them so well as failure has done.”

=> 3. Winners throw away their failures as they keep the lessons in those failures.

Now that’s a mouthful. What do I mean by that? And how can you do it?

Simple. Get out a piece of paper and tear it in half. And think of one failure in your life. Perhaps you failed to get a promotion at work, or maybe you failed in a particular relationship. Write that failure on one of the half sheets of paper.

Now think about what you learned from that failure. You can always learn something from your failure. Maybe you learned to be more visible at work so you have a better chance at getting a future promotion. Or maybe you learned the need to control your temper so you don’t blow the next relationship. Use your other half sheet of paper to describe the lesson you found in your failure.

One caution. When you write down a lesson, make sure you write down a positive lesson that has the potential for improving your life. If, for example, you failed to get a promotion, the lesson is NOT that you are a loser. There are no positive possibilities in such a lesson. The positive lesson may be that you need to get some additional coaching so you are more likely to be promoted.

Now take the paper on which you wrote down your failure. Crumple into a ball. And toss it into a trash basket. Just keep throwing until it goes in. In so doing, you are embedding the physical memory of throwing your failure away… while keeping the lesson.

And that’s great. The lesson you’ve kept is a gift. It’s something you might not have learned if you had not experienced the failure.

Resolve, from this day forward, when you experience a failure, you will take time to discover the “lesson.” It will always be there. Don’t miss those lessons… because they’re critical.

Tom Watson, Sr., the founder of IBM affirmed that. When he was asked the quickest way to success, he said, “Double your failure rate.”

Oh yes. If you’re wondering about the lesson I learned from my first failure in speaking, it was simply this… to get a lot more clarity from a client BEFORE I deliver a program. I need to know EXACTLY what my client wants instead of guessing what he/she wants.

And the lesson paid off. That same client went on to hire me for another 100 programs in the following years.

Action:  Try the two half-sheet page method. Write down a failure on one sheet. Write the lesson on the other sheet. Toss away the failure. And post your lesson where you will see it.