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. You may tell yourself you should just give up and never try for that goal again; it was not for you, why did you even bother?
Unfortunately, many people do exactly that when their efforts meet with failure at the first attempt. Far too many fail and turn back. It is an unfortunate reflection of our society that from a young age, academic failure can mean shame, humiliation and embarrassment. We have been conditioned to believe that failure is final, rather than an opportunity for growth. In fact, the fear of failure can be so deeply embedded that many of us will hold ourselves 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 we look closely at their rise, we will come to realise that none of them 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 faced 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 chose to view his failures as opportunities to learn, 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; although it sold only 200 copies, she did not give up on her singing aspirations. Years later, she was signed to three major labels, which all dropped her because of poor sales — but by August 2011, her album “Teenage Dream” became only the second album ever to generate five Number 1 singles. A divorced, penniless, unemployed single mother did not allow her failures to stop her from writing a novel which, after initial rejection, went on to sell more than 450 million copies worldwide in 79 languages. The author, J.K. Rowling, noted, “Rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” These shining success stories — and so many more — are great examples of how failures can be transformed into stepping stones towards success.
If you experience failure, it is okay to feel sad and disappointed; in fact, throw yourself 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 this negative be turned into a positive? How can the experience of failure make you stronger? Setbacks can be opportunities to take a step back, take stock, and try and find the learning that can come from failure. Every time you step over an obstacle and keep moving up that hill to success, think of yourself as gaining new muscles; new strengths. Remember that success is much more than simply achieving your goals; it is making the most of the journey on the way to your destination.
If failure hurts deeply, it is a sign of how strongly you feel about your goal — so take that disappointment and channel it into action that gets you closer to what you want to achieve. In the end, your life is a collection of choices. You can choose to allow failure to defeat you, or you can choose to look at it as an opportunity to grow. It might be a chance to tackle your goals in a different way, or even open another door to a different kind of success that might suit you better. When you make the life-changing decision to not allow failure to stop you, but instead be the foundation stone along your path, you are already on your way to being a success.