No one enjoys failing at anything, and yet each of us have failed many times. As someone once said, the person who best understood the human race is the person who invented the eraser on pencils. Despite our aversion to failure, the truth is that failure is a part of the process of advancing to the top of our fields. It’s the lessons we learn through our failures that prepare us for the challenges we will face as we advance through life. Dr. Joyce Brothers once said that “The person interested in success has to learn to view failure as a healthy, inevitable part of the process of getting to the top.”
In previous posts I’ve mentioned a business our family owned which I managed. That business failed. The primary cause of that failure was me. I made too many mistakes as I led that company. After selling the business and having time to reflect on what happened, I wrote an eBook, Mistakes: Avoiding the Wrong Decisions That Will Close Your Small Business that described some of the mistakes I made and what I learned from them. I wrote the book to help me better understand what had happened and to help readers learn from my mistakes and avoid them.
There was nothing about that failure that I enjoyed. Selling all our inventory and equipment at auction for pennies on the dollar was painful to endure. What would have been even more painful would have been if, after that experience, I gave up. You see… failure is only final if you quit after you fail. As long as you are willing to get back up after falling you haven’t failed. The important thing is to take what was learned from the failure and apply it to the next phase of your life.
The story is told of a middle-manager who made a mistake that cost the company $10 million. He was summoned to the president’s office where he was certain he would be fired. As he entered the office he told the president that he understood why he was being let go, and he would pack his personal items and leave his office as quickly as possible. The president looked at him and said, “Why would I fire you? I just spent $10 million training you.”
Management expert Peter Drucker has said, “The better a man is, the more mistakes he will make, for the more new things he will try. I would never promote to a top-level job a man who was not making mistakes…otherwise he is sure to be mediocre.”
While we do not want to fail on purpose, let’s see failure for what it is. It is inevitable for anyone who is not afraid to try new things. Some of those things simply will not work out, but that’s all right. Teddy Roosevelt said, “Far better to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take ranks with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
Failure is also an educational process that each person must go through. We grow through our failures, assuming we learn from them. In fact, I would dare say we grow more through our failures than through our successes. As we grow we become better prepared for future challenges and will enjoy even greater successes in the future.