Failures can ruin your life. But only if you let them. Trust me, I know. I have had more failures than most.
I have failed at dismally at sports; failed exams; failed to get jobs I went after; failed at marriage and other relationships; had a failed business (and failed to get some others off the ground). I have had plenty of writing failures, too, otherwise known as rejection slips.
It is a wonder I get out of bed in the morning. But I do – and why? Because failure only exists in your head, and it is one of the most damaging thoughts you can have.It has taken me a lot of years to realize it, and it is probably, if I let it be, my biggest regret.
Re-defining failures with some expert help:
- As Jack Canfield says, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” Fear is completely paralyzing. If I hadn’t been afraid of flying, I could have traveled more. If I hadn’t been fearful of “failing” at adrenaline sports, I could have had more experiences. For some reason, one exception I made to that was water-skiing. I had ten lessons before I stood up and ten more before I stayed up an entire session. I never progressed very far, crashed gracelessly down often, but I would so regret the many hours I spent loving every minute of it. If you want to look at this fear side of failure a bit more, I recommend Susan Jeffers’s book “Feel the Fear and do it anyway”.
- Jeff Bezos, founder, and CEO of Amazon is of the same opinion. “I knew that if I failed,” he says, I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not trying.” The older we get the more we are prone to regrets and trust me – they are not a good thing. You do not want to be on your death bed going “If only..”. The number of so-called “failures” you have had are going to be way out-weighed by the satisfaction of a life well-lived. Trav Bell, The Bucket List Coach, is a great person to listen to on this.
- Chris Bradford, the author of both the Young Samurai and Bodyguard series, maintains, “There is no failure except in no longer trying.” It is a quote that always reminds me of one of my more disastrous episodes at school sports. For some reason, most of the regular swimming team were unavailable. I was selected for the backstroke race against our dire enemies from a neighboring school. Having zero confidence in my abilities, I got halfway down the last stretch, heard laughter, and assumed I must be way behind, and so I rolled over onto my front. To my horror, I found I had been not doing that badly, but having given up, I lost everything and was disqualified. That was one of my failures. I failed to keep trying.
- Thomas Edison – he of 10,000 lightbulbs that didn’t work – was a master at ignoring failure. Proving it truly is a mindset, and you can rise above your failures if you look at things his way, he claimed, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work”. Eradicate the word failure from your vocabulary – never again let there be failures.”
- Re-write those “failures” as practices. I wrote two books before a third won me a publishing contract. With the first attempt, I sent off for some pre-applying advice. The feedback so tore me to shreds, I cried for a whole weekend and binned the entire thing. With the second book, I got a little further and got a few kinder rejection slips. You know the type, “The writing is good, but sadly, the subject is not appropriate or us at the current time.” Kind ways of telling you where to go. But as Henry Ford said, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” I looked hard at what I had done, learned from both, and got myself a dream-come-true publishing contract. Don’t think of failure as the end of anything, but just a step in the right direction.
- Richard Branson advises us to “not be embarrassed by our failures; learn from them and start again.” Embarrassment is, I believe, at the heart of a lot of our fear of failure. We dread being the idiot in the swimming race, we dread making a prat of ourselves and assume that people will judge us and say horrid things. It has taken me all these years to learn it, but the few (and it is only a few) that do, are merely transferring and trying to make themselves feel better about their own inadequacies. More importantly, other people’s judgments only hurt you if you allow yourself to take them on board. They are not worth it. Repeat after me…
- “Entrepreneurship is hard. It’s fighting fires, it’s failure after failure”, says Gary Vaynerchuck. And it is. If for one single minute, you are under the illusion it is anything less than hard, don’t do it. Failing at entrepreneurship can be hard too. When I realized no-one was going to buy my last business unless I split it up and sold the brand part of it, I closed the curtains, switched off the phones, and curled up under the covers thinking life had come to an end. Then I realized that while once I had a great business, for the last ten years, I had been living with a deteriorating and decaying succession of failures that made me totally and incredibly miserable, fire-fighting, and losing those fights. Suddenly. I had t got my life back. It was time to move on. Failure can be a great opportunity.
- As an entrepreneur, I was wracked by imposter syndrome, always convinced I would be found out as a fraudulent no-good, no-hoper. Insecurities jack up our paranoia about failure. If only I had heard Simon Sinek who says “The great leaders are not the strongest, they are the ones who are honest about their weaknesses. The great leaders are not the smartest; they are the ones who admit how much they don’t know. The great leaders can’t do everything; they are the ones who look to others to help them. Great leaders don’t see themselves as great; they see themselves as human”. Having failures is an inescapable part of being human. And that is ok.
- Elon Musk takes an anti-failure stance to a whole new extreme with his culture at Tesla. He encourages it, saying, “ If things are not failing, you aren’t innovating enough”. If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to innovate. So, celebrate that failure.
- Finally, I cannot fail to include some wisdom from the late, great Steve Jobs who said, “Every successful person has failed. Numerous times. Most of them have failed a lot more often than we have. That’s why they’re successful now. Embrace every failure. Own it, learn from it, and take full responsibility for making sure that next time, things will turn out differently”. I hope I have taken responsibility and I definitely have learned.
Don’t let failures stop you. Don’t think of them as a bad thing. Get on with living your life instead.
You might also enjoy this piece on business failures specifically and why it is so important we get over our British attitude towards it