Learning From Failure

When I was younger, I rarely took steps larger than I thought I could manage for fear of failure. This applied academically, personally and professionally. It wasn’t until I reached my 40’s that I began to realize that I really could, indeed, do almost anything I set my mind to. Oftentimes I’ll catch myself thinking “what if”. What if I had taken more risks professionally? What if I had been more active in social clubs while in college? What if I hadn’t been afraid to fail in sports – would I have found one I was passionate about?

I recently heard a phrase that I don’t recall hearing before… “failing forward”. The premise is that we should learn from our mistakes and become better because of them. Setbacks shouldn’t hold us back, they should give us the knowledge we need to move forward.

How do you fail forward?

  • Take Risks - Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines has built his company with the underlying theme that “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” Trying something new and failing can lead to innovation and growth.
  • Focus on Growth – experiment with and focus on growth. Expand your mindset and your inner dialog of what is possible. Many times, we refuse to consider ideas because we are certain they will fail. Try anyways. Use all experiences, even failures, as stepping stones. To quote Vincent Van Gogh, “I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it.”
  • Continuously Learn – it’s important to not only learn from our successes, but from our failures as well. There is always a lesson to be learned from both. What worked well? What didn’t? Failure can be one of life’s best teachers. As Thomas Edison said, “I haven’t failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
  • Accept Failure – accepting that you have failed can be one of the most difficult things. However, by accepting, you free yourself up to move on. Remind yourself that failure is a natural part of success, accept your failures and move forward.
  • Stay focused and motivated - define what is most important to you in life and business and make those a priority. You should focus your energy on those things first. Trying to do too many things can leave you feeling frustrated and may even set you up for failure.
  • Don’t be a victim – it does no good to feel sorry for yourself. When faced with failure, examine what went wrong and put processes in place to prevent those mistakes from happening again. Strategize, don’t victimize yourself.
  • Have no regrets – life is too short for regrets. Train yourself to understand that every step you take, whether you succeed or fail, is an opportunity for learning and growth. Taking risks and failing should be celebrated, as it means you are trying new things and pushing yourself forward.

Constantly challenge yourself. Don’t be so afraid of failure that you never take calculated risks. As the poet William F. O’Brien wrote, “Better to try and fail than never to try at all.”

I feel confident most days; but there are some days where I’m plagued by feelings of self-doubt and a true fear of failure. But I’m going to focus on taking larger leaps, trying new things, and not being afraid to fail. How about you?

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 “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain