Seeing Failure As An Opportunity To Learn From (And Leapfrog Into Success)

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success?

We all dwell on success. We are thrilled when we succeed, and we love to hear or read about stories of sucess or of successful people. But we usually forget that behind every story of success there are hundreds of instances of failure, stories of stumbling, falling and bouncing back. Joy is only the epitome of a long process of pain, sadness, and frustration. Those who do it, those who know the secret of success, have had to suffer through the toil of harsh defeat again and again, and sometimes in a state of solitude and total indifference. The world runs away from our failures, but celebrates with us on our successes. 

But failure only makes us if we accept it as part of life. Failure breaks only those who see it as absolute loss, as an end in itself. Failure is a wild horse you need to ride towards achievement and sucess. Successful entrepreneurs are experts in failure. Behind the happy face of achievement, lie stories of things broken, time lost, wishes unachieved, and goals missed. The road to sucess is never adorned with beautiful flowers, soft carpets, or gorgeous sights! The savvy entrepreneurs are those who use the thousand failures as building blocks to rise higher. That is why they never get tired of trying, no matter how often they fail. 

I always imagine success as this beautiful narrative, an epic of achievement, behind which a saga of little and big failures are hidden, told and retold, to remind you of how far you have come, what steps you have taken before you learnt how to get it, how to do it. A child never gives up when trying to crawl, or stand up or walk- it takes him or her hours, days and months, filled with falls, cries and tears, before learning how to do it. An entrepreneur never gives up- he/she knows that pain will only abate when you reach the top of the mountain. The pain of giving up leaves more durable scars, than the pain of trying again and again and again. 


Successful entrepreneurs build on failure, live on failure and use failure to achieve, to succeed and to lead. The characteristics of those-who-fail-only-to-succeed are diverse, but I summarize them in the form of tips and advice as follows: 

1. Don’t be afraid to fail Fear of failure is also a hidden fear of success. Take big strides, jump higher, and dare to challenge conventional wisdom and common sense. If you don’t risk anything, you won’t gain anything. As Jack Canfield said, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” Mandela spent 27 years in jail, but refused to give up the struggle against apartheid, when presented with a fudged compromise. He was not afraid to say no and remain in jail, knowing that behind the indomitable image of fear and failure lies the bright picture of success. 

2. Great success is built on great failures Robert Kennedy once said that “only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” If you want humans to get to Mars or Venus, you need to be prepared to get space missions to fail, shuttles to never reach destinations, technological devices to explode in the wide space, and obstacles to emerge by the hour, if not by the minute. Because your dream is big, so are your failures to achieve it. See your big failures as great lessons to learn from. Understand that the bigger you fail, the closer you get to your goal. The Jamaican Usain Bolt, the greatest sprinter of all time, once said, “I don’t think limits,” meaning that his dream to be a hero doesn’t know limits, but only open vistas, limitless horizons. If you think limits, you create psychological hurdles to success. Dream big, fail big and enjoy huge successes all through. 


3. Failure is the mother of inventiveness Thomas Edison said that he had not failed, but had found thousands ways what he had invented did not work. Experimenting and failing again and again is common to the great inventors who have changed our lives for ever. Electricity in every home, thousands of planes buzzing in our skies on a daily basis, comfortable cars making far places within our reach in a few hours, smartphones making the world available to us through small screens that we gently tap with one finger, sophisticated machines that scan our bodies for malfunctions or illnesses, and a million other inventions- all of these would not have been possible if the inventors did not accept the rule that “if you don’t fail and learn, you cannot succeed.”

4. Failure is success suspended, until the moment is ripe Sometimes we fail because we are ahead of our time, or because we are getting there but we need to think harder, work harder, and be more persistent. As Denis Waitley said, “failure is delay, not defeat.” It is a matter of finding the right solution for the right problem, and selling it to the right people, in the right conditions. The recipe to success takes special ingredients, and very minute and detailed dosage when it comes to seasoning. Failure can be intrinsic to the solution itself, but it may be also a problem of packaging, marketing and communication. Therefore, failure is a matter of time- finding the right recipe to make the solution attractive and sellable in a timely fashion. Timing is key. Try again later but never give up. 

5. You can know success only if you have experienced failure The best perspective on sucess is through failure. “It’s failure that gives you the proper perspective on success,” as Ellen DeGeneres said. Success is built on held assumptions and found solutions. Some assumptions work and others don’t. Therefore, every failed attempt gives you a sense of what doesn’t work and what should work. Failure gives you perspective, it helps you focus and hone in on the right obstacles and the right solutions- things you could not have seen, had you not failed, had you not made assumptions that did not work. 

6. It’s okay to make mistakes, it’s NOT okay not to learn from them Mistakes are the imperfections that push us to aspire to perfection. In fact, they are not mistakes. They are our life lessons about what works and what does not work. That is why it is imperative to study our falls and our mistakes carefully to learn from them, to understand what could be key to sucess. As Henry Ford said, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” Study carefully what does not work: therein lie the seeds that make you successful. The secret to achievement is made up of failures understood as warm-up exercises designed to help you learn to jump higher, aim better and get it right. 

Success is a dream. But the road to sucess is paved with bold moves and brave acts. You have to risk something if you want to get something. In so doing, you are more vulnerable because you are exposed to danger, factoring in failure is a key characteristic of the bold entrepreneurs. Yes, they are afraid; but they know that overcoming fear can only happen when they espouse it and own it; if they fall, their fear does not grow; on the contrary, they become bolder, braver; they are vulnerable to bigger falls but also to greater achievements. Success is a thousand failures turned into a thousand lessons that allow you to overcome fear and catch the dream as it flies by you in a dark night. Don’t be afraid to fail; be ready to succeed.

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