By David Ly Khim
This is the first of two posts concerning the idea of turning a failure into a stepping stone toward success.
“You need to fail before you succeed.” This statement is echoed in a number of motivational speeches, articles about celebrities, and there are plenty of blog posts covering the idea of learning from your experiences.
For many of us, the idea that “failure is a precursor to success” has been repeated over and over like a song that you can’t get out of your head–it can get a bit annoying.
It can get annoying because maybe you’ve already learned what failure is and maybe you’re still trying to understand how to turn a failure into a stepping stone toward success.
Personally, when I fail I want to roll up into a ball, spoon with a tub of mint and chip ice cream, and watch Breaking Bad on Netflix all day. I don’t, though (I swear). That’s the wrong way to fail.
To save you the time and trouble, I’m going to tell you the right way to fail.
Walt Disney was a Failure
To start with an example of failure, Walt Disney comes to mind. Surprise! The one and only Walt Disney was someone who was seen as a failure before he became successful. Disney’s very first effort at animation went bankrupt and he lost the rights to his first commercially successful character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. After such a loss, he could have easily thrown his hands in the air, said “to hell with it,” and given up on animation altogether–but he didn’t. He had faith, and eagerly continued working in animation.
What’s truly remarkable is that Disney didn’t just persevere after failure; he continued to embrace risk even after achieving success.
Many of us would relish in our success and become content. We would avoid the risk of losing everything we had worked to gain. Disney, on the other hand, borrowed against his own life insurance policy to fund the construction of Disneyland. That’s how much risk he was willing to embrace. He didn’t allow himself to settle down with success and he wouldn’t have minded if he failed again.
We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. – Walt Disney
What is your definition of failure?
How do you know when you’ve failed? What do you believe are the characteristics of failure? Is it when you don’t live up to your expectations? Is it when you don’t believe you’ve performed to the best of your abilities? Or is it when you don’t live up to someone else’s expectations?
There isn’t a wrong answer to this. You have your own unique definition of failure and it’s important to know what you consider a failure so you can gauge your successes against your failures.
What did you do the last time you failed?
Honestly, I’m guilty of avoiding human interaction. I would habitually shut the world out. I don’t do those things anymore, though. Other times, I would hit the gym, go for a run, or make a cup of tea and read a book.
What do you find yourself doing after a failure?
You have to be brutally honest with yourself here. If you realize that you have a habit of doing something that’s physically, mentally, and/or emotionally unhealthy, you’ve got to admit it to yourself and prevent yourself from doing it next time.
What You Should NOT Do After a Failure
There’s a right way and a wrong way to fail. According to this article, the wrong ways to fail are:
To deny that you failed at all
To try to make up for your losses
To convince yourself that the mistake doesn’t matter or reinterpret the failure as a success
It’s human instinct to try to avoid failure after experiencing it. Failure is frustrating and it hits us where it hurts most, our ego. However, when you avoid failure, it means you avoid risk. When you avoid risk, you avoid doing new things that could end up amazing. You avoid success, and in doing so, you limit yourself.
For many of us, when the going gets tough the easiest thing to do is give up. In the hopes of lessening the blow that failure delivers to our ego, we may even tell ourselves “Who cares? It’s not that important anyway.” While you may be able to convince yourself of that in the short term, if it’s something that’s truly important to you, you’re the one that’s going to care.
It’s better to lead a life in which you attempt to achieve something you truly believe in and fail, than live a lifetime filled with the regret of never trying.
If you give up, one day you’re going to be up late one night reflecting on your life, and you’ll realize that you gave up on something you believed in. You’re going to regret giving up. You’re going to regret it because you know that it was something you could have achieved, yet you let your fear of failing get the best of you.
It’s Not Just About Getting UP After You Fall.
If you want to succeed, then you must be persistent. Much like Walt Disney, you have to keep moving forward. You have to tell yourself, “Okay, I failed, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up. Giving up isn’t an option.”
Failure doesn’t mean that you’re a failure… it just means that you haven’t succeeded yet. – Robert Schuler
When you let yourself down–when you fail–you have to pick yourself back up and reflect. Why did you fall? What could you have been done differently? Then you apply what you learned and you continue on again. Knowing that it won’t be the last time you fall, but with each fall you’ll learn something new. Trial and error until you succeed.
However, keep in mind that getting up is more than just getting up. Some people fall, but don’t learn from their mistakes. Each step they take afterward is accompanied with the fear of falling again. But you can’t be scared. You have to be willing to fall over and over again. And when you fall, don’t crawl back up to your feet–bounce back up and be ready to take on whatever life throws at you next.
Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. – Sir Winston Churchill
You have to accept that you’re going to fail and you have to be open to learning and changing your approach and your mentality.
It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it in the end.
Build a Safe Space That Isn’t Fail-Safe
To bounce up, you’ll need some tools to build your safe space. A safe space isn’t a fail-safe space. If it is, then that means you aren’t challenging yourself.
You need a safe space where you can fail without the fear of anything watching or judging–therefore you won’t hold yourself back from any risk.
(Hint: your safe space isn’t a physical location; it’s in your mindset.)
The tools you need to build this safe space:
Know who you can look to when you need help
Make sure these tools are solid! The more solid your tools, the stronger your safe space is.
Remember that success is about accepting that you’re going to fail, but being willing to change your approach and go at it again. It’s about hard work and adapting and persistence.
In part 2, we’ll discuss the specific steps to take to succeed after a failure. Please stay tuned!