If At First You Don’t Succeed, Should You Try Again?


You are going after a major goal — passing an exam, getting a promotion, making a winning pitch — you give it your best shot, put in the greatest effort and time towards this goal and… you fail miserably. Should you then just give up and never try for that goal again? Maybe it was not for you, so why did you even bother?

This is unfortunately what many people say to themselves when their efforts met with failure at the first attempt. Far too many fail and turn back along the path to success. It is an unfortunate reflection of our society that from a young age, academic failure can mean shame, humiliation, and embarrassment. We are conditioned to believe that failure is fatal, rather than being an opportunity for growth.

The fear of failure, so embedded in some, will hold them back from even trying — but imagine what would have happened if some of our greatest inventors, performers, or writers gave up after facing failure? The world would be a very different place. When we think of successful individuals, we often focus on their lives of luxury, fame, and glory. But if you look closely at the rise of any successful person, not one of them has achieved success without also experiencing devastating failure. The difference between people who are successful and those who are not often boils down to how they choose to deal with the obstacles, failures, and setbacks in life.

Thomas Edison was no stranger to failure. When asked about the many, many disappointments he encountered in his efforts to develop the light bulb he said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Famed basketball player, Michael Jordan also choose to view his failures as lessons saying, “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career…I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Pop-star Katy Perry released her first album in 2001; it sold only 200 copies, but she did not give up on her singing aspirations. She was later signed on to three major labels, which all dropped her due to poor sales. By August 2011, her album “Teenage Dream” became only the second album ever to generate five #1 singles. A divorced, penniless, unemployed single mother did not allow her failures to stop her from writing a novel, which after its initial rejection, went on to sell more than 450 million copies worldwide, in 79 languages. The author, J.K.Rowling, said, “Rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”  The lives of these people and so many more are examples of transforming failures into stepping-stones towards success.

It’s natural to feel sad and disappointed after failure. Throw a pity party complete with balloons. Get it out of your system — but don’t live in that space for too long — dust off the disappointment and pick yourself up. Assess the situation. What can you learn from the experience? How can it be turned into a positive? How can the failure make you stronger? Setbacks can be opportunities to take a step back, take stock, and try to find the lessons that can come from failure. Every time you step over an obstacle and keep moving up that hill to success, you gaining new muscles and greater strength.

Success is not simply about reaching your goals, it is making the most of the journey. If failure hurts deeply, this is a sign of how strongly you feel about your goal — so take that disappointment and channel it into something that gets you closer to achieving it. In the end, your life is a collection of choices. You can choose to allow failure to defeat you, or you can view it as an opportunity to grow. It might be a chance to tackle your goals in a different way, or open another door to a different kind of success that might be even better suited to you. When you choose not to allow failure to stop you, but instead be the foundation of your journey, you are already well on your way to being a success.