It’s critical that we learn to fail and fail a lot. In fact there is no real success without failing. It’s how we learn. It’s how we grow and get better. You should not avoid failing, but encourage it, both for yourself and for those around you (employees, students, family members, etc.).
My colleague, John Couch, Vice President of Education at Apple, told me in my first meeting with him that, “We fail a lot here at Apple and we encourage it. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.” I agree. When I speak I talk a lot about this, because it’s so important.
Even for myself, many people see the broad “success” strokes of my life (USC grad, published author, Harvard degree, speaker, etc.) and don’t realize the enormous amount of failing that I’ve had to do in order to get any of that done. I failed high school, failed every standardized test I’ve ever taken, failed in many relationships, both personal and professional, and allow myself to continue to fail all the time as I believe that failing is a critical tool for learning.
Most people would not associate President, Abraham Lincoln with failing, but there is no better public example of sheer persistence and perseverance overcoming frequent failings.
Here’s a humorous, but pointed, “story” from the tongue-in-cheek book, Winning Through Intimidation: How to Be the Victor, Not the Victim, in Business and In Life, that sums it all up:
“And so it was that in 1832 young Abraham Lincoln lost his job. And the Discouragement Fraternity sneered and said unto him: “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you successful?” And Abe, intimidated, hung his head low and crawled back under yon roc from whence he came.
And so it was that later in that same year Abe ran for the legislature of Illinois and was badly defeated. And the Discouragement Fraternity sneered and said unto him: “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you successful?” And Abe, intimidated, hung his head low and crawled back under yon rock from whence he came.
And so it was that this pattern continued– tried his hand at business in 1833 and went broke, ran for Speaker in 1838 and lost, was overwhelmingly defeated in a bid for nomination to Congress in 1843, rejected for appointment to the U.S. Land Office in 1849, soundly beaten for U.S. Senate seat in 1854, defeated for nomination for Vice-President in 1856– and after each failure, the Discouragement Fraternity, always more than happy to be of help, sneered and said unto him: “If you’re so smart why ain’t you successful?” And each time, Abe, intimidated, hung his head low and crawled back under yon rock from whence he came.
Then in 1858, after once again being defeated for U.S. Senate, and after once again enduring the Discouragement Fraternity’s sneering and saying unto him: “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you successful?”, a funny thing happened on the way back to yon rock from whence he came:
Abe thought for a moment, scratched his head, then finally came to the conclusion that intimidators must have more fun than intimidatees.
Thus concluding, he looked up at the Discouragement Fraternity and replied: “Stick thy finger up thy nose and go fly thee a kite.”
…. and low and behold, Abe, the ex-intimidatee, became President… and saved the Union.
And the members of the Discouragement Fraternity– fingers in noses and kites in hands– said unto Abe: “Bravo! We always knew thou would be successful.”
… whereupon Abe displayed a gentle smile and walked quietly away.”
The truth is that the most successful people in any endeavor live in a constant state of failure. Olympians fall daily in practice, get back up and try again. Michael Jordan didn’t practice the things on the court he had already mastered, but rather those that he could not do well. The greatest engineers, entertainers, artists, inventors, all failed on a regular basis. Failing doesn’t hurt, it helps, so long as you are learn and adapt along the way.
Failing vs Failure
Failing and failure are not synonymous. Failing means you did not achieve what you were trying to achieve, whereas failure means giving up. Fail a lot, but never be a failure.