Imagine that you’re going after a major goal – passing that big exam, getting that coveted promotion, making that winning pitch. You give it your best shot, burn the midnight oil, put in hours and hours of your time and… you fail miserably. You should then just give up, never try for that goal again; it was not for you, why did you even bother? Sounds harsh, right? But that’s essentially what you’re saying when you allow yourself to be permanently discouraged when your efforts meet with failure at the first attempt.
It is an unfortunate reflection of our society that we are conditioned to believe that failure means shame, humiliation, and embarrassment, rather than an opportunity for growth. It begins at a young age with the fear of academic failure and becomes so embedded in some that they will hold themselves back from trying at all. But imagine what would have happened if some of our greatest inventors, performers, and 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 a closer look at the rise of any successful person reveals that almost none of them have achieved success without also experiencing devastating failure. The differences between people who are successful and those who are not, often boil down to how they choose to deal with life’s obstacles, failures, and setbacks.
The inventor Thomas Edison was no stranger to failure – when asked about the many, many disappointments 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 a benefit 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 and it sold only 200 copies; in the subsequent years, she was signed to three major labels, which all dropped her due to poor sales. But by August 2011 her album “Teenage Dream” became only the second album to ever generate five #1 singles. A divorced, penniless, unemployed single mother started writing a novel in a coffee shop, which, after initial rejection, went on to sell more than 450 million copies worldwide in 79 languages. That author, J.K. Rowling, later said that “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.
Do allow yourself to be human if you experience failure; it is okay to feel sad and disappointed. Throw a pity party, complete with balloons, and get it out of your system. But be careful not to live in that space for too long. Instead, dust off the disappointment and pick yourself up. Assess the situation – what can you learn from the experience? How can this be turned into a positive? How can this make you stronger? Setbacks can be an opportunity to take a step back, to take stock, to try and find the learnings that can come from failure. Every time you step over an obstacle or failure and keep moving up that hill to success, think of yourself as gaining new muscles and new strengths.
Remember, success is not necessarily only achieving your goals, but making the most of the journey on the way to your destination. 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 takes you a step closer to your goal. In the end, your life is a collection of choices, so you can choose to allow failure to defeat you or view it as an opportunity to grow. It might offer a chance to tackle your goals in a different way, or open another door to a different opportunity that might be even better suited for you. When you choose not to allow failure to stop you but instead to be a motivator on your journey, you are already on your way to becoming a success.