Why do we worry so much about avoiding failure when it teaches us so much?
One of my favourite quotes about failure is from JK Rowling who said “Some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something. Unless you have lived so cautiously, you might not have failed at all, – but in which case, you might have failed by default.”
This is SO true.
Look at ANY success story and I guarantee you’ll find a long list of failures.
Twelve different publishing houses rejected Harry Potter before it was finally accepted by Bloomsbury. Now, only The Bible and Mao’s Little Red Book have sold more copies – and JK Rowling has made millions from her creation.
Sir Alex Ferguson was very close to being sacked a number of times after a very average first four years in charge at Manchester United, but he won the FA Cup after a replay in 1990, in what could have been his last game in charge had it not gone his way, and he went on to become the greatest Premier League manager of all time.
James Dyson’s designs were turned down multiple times by manufacturers who wanted to play it safe, but he maintained the belief in himself and his ideas, even going bankrupt in the process, before he finally launched his first vacuum in 1983. He’s now worth over $20bn.
What do all of these people have in common?
They didn’t give up and go home when they failed.
Instead, they learned from these experiences and came back more determined. They believed in their abilities and their creations. It would have been easy for them to run from the fear of failing again, but they showed resilience. They succeeded, and so can you.
Gail Emms talks about learning from her failures on my podcast The High Performance Half Hour.
What do I mean by resilience?
Resilience is the ability to bounce back; it is developed when you understand that you have the power to set and manage your own wellbeing and you learn to recover, rebuild, and thrive. All these experiences give you more information for next time.
No matter how great you may be, at some point you’re going to get things wrong and you’re going to get criticism. It won’t always be your fault and it won’t always be fair, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. Failure isn’t the end, it’s an opportunity to learn and to grow and to come out the other side stronger.
Looking back on my own failures in sport and work, I recognise now that they were some of the best things that could have happened to me. It’s hard to get back up when you get knocked down, but if you can remove the emotion and look for the lessons in some of these dark times, you will almost always find new opportunities and also build your resilience muscle.
Start to embrace failure a bit more. Understand that there will inevitably be mistakes along the way. Maybe you prioritise the wrong piece of work, or you contact someone when it’s that moment too late. Maybe you just get unlucky. Or maybe you got everything right – but someone outside the project has an axe to grind.
It doesn’t mean that you should give up.
It just means you get another chance to build your resilience.