In 2000 John Maxwell wrote a book that helped me immensely. The book was Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes Into Stepping Stones for Success. All of Maxwell’s books have helped me in my leadership development, but this one spoke to me in new ways. Few people who write about leadership and motivation talk positively about failure. This book did that and gave me a totally different perspective on failure that I previously held. Not only did Maxwell talk about failure, he talked positively about it! Failure is not something to fear. It is something to embrace because it means we are doing something. We are growing.
Failure is something I know a lot about. I’ve had both small failures in my life and some really big ones. Like most people I have made poor decisions in the past that cost me. While they were painful, most of them were relatively minor and it was fairly easy to move on. However, some of my failures have been much greater and had a major impact on me and others.
My biggest failure was when we lost a business we owned in 2010. When we took ownership of the business it was thriving and profitable. It remained that way for a number of years until it went into a slow decline. When the economy tanked in 2008 we were not able to save the business. This was one of the most painful periods of my life because I knew much of the fault of that failure was mine. Mistakes I made in running that business brought about its demise. I later wrote a book about that experience called Mistakes: Avoiding the Wrong Decisions That Will Close Your Small Business. I wrote the book partly as therapy for me, but mostly to help the reader avoid the mistakes I made that might cause their business to fail. The book is only available as an ebook.
What helped me during that difficult time was what I learned about failure from reading Maxwell’s book. I knew that as painful as losing our business was, there was much I could learn. I had learned that failure is never final unless we allow it to be. I learned that growth can come from failure, and we can build upon our failures to enjoy greater successes later. I know, for instance, that I will not make the same mistakes in my auction business today that I made in that business back then.
If we remain afraid of failure we will never attempt anything new. We will remain stuck in our ruts thinking and acting the way we know is safe. Unfortunately, the world is changing so rapidly thinking and acting the way we always have is no longer safe. Eventually, we will be left behind. We have to be willing to take risks or we will never achieve the things we want to achieve. Sometimes when we take risks we will fail, and when that happens we need to learn to fail forward.