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Why Failing Frequently Makes you Successful

No one likes to make mistakes. I’ve hated it since I was a child and even more so now as an adult. Perhaps a component of this stems from our broken education system which punishes the risk-takers and those willing to make mistakes–even though these individuals likely learn more in the process.

Limiting Beliefs About Ourselves Prevents Growth

I’m also sure a component stems from my core mistaken-belief that love is not unconditional. What’s a mistaken-belief? According to Dr. Judith Wright, this is a false belief that a person has about themselves that limits the way they engage with the world. [1]

Other examples of mistaken beliefs are:

  • I'm not good enough.

  • I'm too much.

  • I'm not loveable.

  • The world is a dangerous and scary place.

The good news is, these beliefs aren't permanent. By consistently facing your fear and challenging these beliefs, you can start to re-wire your brain to believe otherwise.

For me, my mistaken belief that love is contingent upon my ability to perform at a high level professionally has made me incredibly risk-averse. In my mind, making mistakes means losing love. In some aspects, this has served me very well. In others, not so much.

You see, oftentimes we learn more from failure than success. Being too risk-averse limits new life experiences and prevents us from fully engaging with the world. As such, I recognize that I am limiting my personal development due to my fear of making a mistake. By continuing to challenge my core mistaken belief by embracing failure as an opportunity to develop new life skills, I'm hoping to change this belief over time.

Failure is an Opportunity to Learn and Grow

Failure, plain and simple, is an opportunity to learn and grow. There's always an important lesson to learn from one’s failure. Let me give you an example. Like the majority of society, I’m terrified of public speaking. Why? Because I’m petrified of making a mistake and embarrassing myself in front of a large group of people.

So what’s my natural response to an upcoming presentation? I over-prepare. It consumes my life until the presentation date, driving both myself and my ever-understanding wife crazy in the process.

During my last presentation, I botched adding a sound component to a slide which was integral to the talk. Despite hours of obsessive preparation, I had made a mistake.

But, instead of being shamed by the audience as I had envisioned in my mind, a funny thing happened–they became more engaged. This error had actually opened a window of opportunity for me to share my true personality. I cracked a joke or two about my lack-luster technical skills, got a few chuckles, and decided to go off-script for the rest of the slide.

It went so well, that I found myself ad-libbing throughout the remainder of the presentation which engaged the crowd even more. By embracing my discomfort on stage and through my willingness to take risks and make mistakes, I learned to feel comfortable presenting–and ultimately, to be more comfortable with myself.

Famous Failures and Follies

Some of the most successful people in history have not only endured but thrived despite spectacular failures. Perhaps one of the best-known stories is that of superstar Michael Jordan. Being passed over by his high school varsity team as a sophomore was perceived by Michael as a crushing defeat. However, instead of hosting his own pity party, His Airness used this failure as motivation to develop his skill set. Instead of fearing failure, he made a habit of failing frequently.

One of my favorite MJ quotes is, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Another household name with a particular panache for failure is J.K. Rowling. The world-renown author of the Harry Potter series had once been divorced, bankrupt, and on welfare. Her stories had been rejected by over a dozen publishers. It wasn’t until the daughter of a London publisher demanded the rest of Ms. Rowling’s book after reading a chapter from Harry Potter that she earned her first publishing deal. Since then, she has sold over 400 million copies and is now one of the wealthiest women in the U.K. “Expelliarmus!

Own Your Response to Failure

MJ, JK, and all high achievers recognize that they can’t always control outcomes, but understand that they are 100% responsible for their response. They don’t make excuses. They don’t play the blame game, and they sure as hell don’t let bad outcomes stop them from getting what they want. Instead, they focus on the things they can control, learn from their mistakes, and take action.

In the words of J.K. Rowling, “It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all--in which case you fail by default.

Let’s make a habit of failing fearlessly and failing frequently. Life’s more fun that way!

How about you? What have you failed at recently and what did you learn?



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