I realise that may sound counter-intuitive or juxtaposed to the conventional wisdom of rationality but failure is almost always the only constant that can be conclusively witnessed as a precursor when taking a broad overview of histories paradigm shifts, evolution of product or introduction of new ways of thinking. Failure is almost the only endeavour which consistently leads to success, growth and advancement, it is the string which links each while they develop independently evolving towards success.
As is customary during my annual leave I am afforded the opportunity to read the books I have hoarded and been unable to get through. This year was thankfully no different. The topics covered were wide and diverse (for those interested the books can be found here: ) but the one lineage of thought that manifested itself throughout each text related to the ubiquitousness of failure as a forerunner to success.
It is without question in my mind the most important of all evolutionary behaviour, so deeply engrained within each of us that it is present in every decision we consciously or subconsciously make from the moment we are born. Think back to the first time you burnt your fingers on an open flame, fell from a height and hurt yourself or further still to those precocious moments where you fell before you found your feet to walk those first uncertain steps. The underlying principle of each is exploration and learning from failure. I would argue that it is the single most important feature that we have evolved; to learn from failure while simultaneously utilising our intelligence to redevelop theories for future success.
What fascinates me most then is why some people have this in abundance, an unwavering commitment to success which is only inspired by failure, while others lose this willingness or become scared to experiment. Somewhere on their journey, they developed an aversion to failure which suppresses the opportunity to learn and detrimentally affects their future prospects. Was it at work where they were conditioned to fear it as a reason for dismissal or was it at home where it was criticised out of them by parents? The truth is how or where it occurred is less important that recognition of the fact it did. Some people will continue along this route of cognitive dissonance for a lifetime purposefully ignorant of and unwilling to learn the lessons of failure due to fear of the pain incurred by admitting the hurtful truth of their shortcomings.
Recognition, realisation or admittance of an error when it has occurred then is the essential necessity of enabling future successes to occur. Identifying an error when it occurs allows you to break free of closed loop failure leading to new potential solutions. As it transpires then our biggest failure is a failure to recognise and act on it by finding a solution. Our biggest obstacle to success isn’t failure but ourselves and our inability to admit to them. Failure can only be tackled if it is first understood and we are cognisant of it. Instead of fearing failure we must recognise and embrace it as a creative spark which has merely ruled out one possibility while enlightening us to the potential of alternative routes.
Embracing failure as a part of the process which leads to achieving unprecedented success is difficult. It is even more challenging to ignore the noise that accompanies repeated failure. The constant chatter, criticism and insults can be paralysing. Overlooking this derision and fighting your way to success is the only way you can achieve anything of significance.
Success and failure are inexplicably linked. Successful failure can be measured in actions and what you have learned whereas failure without action leaves the possibility of regret. If you want to fear something I would strongly recommend you concentrate it on failure to try. I can openly confess I’m afraid to fail, but I am for more afraid that I will fail to accomplish anything of significance. Failure is not a sign that your ideas are doomed but is a necessary step toward success.
If at first you don’t succeed, you’ll know you’re aiming high enough.
The simple truth is if you haven’t failed you haven’t tried hard enough or risked enough in your pursuit of achievement. You have not dreamed the dream or pursued ascertainment of the unthinkable. Only when you do this do you open yourself up to the possibility of dramatic and unprecedented success. If you haven’t failed you haven’t really lived. Failure is the badge of honour I wear visibly as scars on my skin and invisibly in my heart every single day. It is what has inspired my evolution to become who I am today and is the kindling which ensures the unmerciful fire burning within implores me to unmercifully hunt success, progress and attainment of every single goal I have ever set.
You don’t just have to take my word for it:
Bill Gates: Gates wasn’t a guarantee of success after dropping out of university and starting a failed first business with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen called Traf-O-Data. While this early idea didn’t work, Gates’ later work did and with what he learned from failure leading to the creation of the global empire that is Microsoft.
Walt Disney: Today Disney rakes in billions from merchandise, movies and theme parks around the world, but Walt had a rough start. He was fired by a newspaper editor because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” After that, Disney started a number of businesses that didn’t last too long and ended with bankruptcy and failure. He kept plugging along, however, and eventually found a recipe for success that worked.
Albert Einstein: When most of us hear Einstein’s name we immediately think genius, but he didn’t always show such promise. Einstein did not speak until he was four and did not read until he was seven, causing his teachers and parents to think he was mentally handicapped, slow and anti-social. Eventually, he was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School. It might have taken him a bit longer, but most people would agree that he caught on pretty well, in the end, winning the Nobel Prize and changing the face of modern physics.
Vincent Van Gogh: During his lifetime, Van Gogh sold only one painting, and this was to a friend and only for a very small amount of money. While Van Gogh was never a success during his life, he plugged on with painting, sometimes starving to complete his over 800 known works. Today, they bring in hundreds of millions.
J. K. Rowling: Rowling may be rich beyond comprehension on the back of Harry Potter today, but before she published the series of novels she was nearly penniless, severely depressed, divorced, trying to raise a child on her own while attending school and writing a novel. Rowling went from depending on welfare to survive to being one of the richest women in the world in a span of only five years through her hard work and determination.
Studies show the distance between those who achieve greatness and those who fall short is much closer than we think. Both groups actually fail at the same % of attempts the only difference is volume. Those who achieve greatness make far more attempts, fail far more often and ascend to those heights by affording themselves far more opportunity to learn from their mistakes and put it right.
Therein lies the rub. Mindless, ignorant and unconsidered failure that you don’t learn from is useless. It hijacks your psychological progress and deters you from trying again. To succeed you need to ignore everything else and focus on the process of learning from your mistakes.
Don’t just fail more, crucially you have to fail smarter and allow yourself the opportunity to achieve greatness. Your legacy depends on it.