Success can make you rich, but failure makes you smart.
And on most days (check that - every day), we'd all choose option #1, of course. But we usually don't get a choice. The success of our companies and our lives often depends upon a lot more than our wanting it enough. Markets, meetings, chances, and opportunities shape our success or failure more than our simple striving.
As it turns out, the most adept and successful companies know how to learn from failure. In fact, the best ones - those that are able to stand the test of time - take failures as a chance to learn what went wrong. It's the real-life testing ground for how to design, launch, and market products. Imagine if everything that a company produced was an immediate success. Their only lesson would be: just make more stuff and advertise it. It'll work.
This is called corporate utopia and it doesn't exist, even for Apple.
The challenge, then, is being able to handle our failures and setbacks well, knowing that they'll contribute to our eventual success down the road. I make tons of mistakes as a parent. Trying to calm or correct my daughter today may be a colossal disaster. But, it becomes the fertile ground upon which I can build when the same meltdown happens next week on the cookie aisle at Publix.
We only fail, then, when we refuse to learn from it.
And, this is what I really like about Nicole Antionette's new free ebook about running. While I'm already a longtime runner, her approach is fresh and honest, no matter how long you've been at it.
If you've tried to run any distance farther than from your couch to the bathroom during a commercial break, you know that some days you have it and some days you don't. The point is to keep trying (a big shout out to Matt Cheuvront here for knocking out his second marathon this past weekend).
Nicole forces the reader to get real about running. She pulls no punches and offers no apologies and rightly begins with the challenge that running is hard work. The point of running isn't to get a great body. The point of running is to run, and in the process, you'll start to unlock a lot within, especially on those days when your running is lackluster. She writes:
When I first started running, I thought that as long as I was “motivated” enough, I could leave everything in my life exactly as it was and just add running into the mix on top of everything else. But it doesn’t work like that. If it were that easy, you’d already be running as often, as fast, and as far as you wanted, right? So much of becoming a runner has nothing to do with running and everything to do with honesty. If you can’t own up to why it hasn’t worked in the past, it’s not magically going to change now. There’s a reason you’re not currently doing what you want to do, and there’s a reason why you haven’t been doing it all this time. In order to make running a regular part of your life, you first need to understand what it is about your life that doesn’t mesh with your running goals, and then you need to take a deep breath and get ready to make some adjustments.
So then, if you're ready to be honest with yourself as a parent, entrepreneur, and leader, you've got to start by embracing failure as a chance to succeed in the future. Wallowing in the depths of misery that is the immediate aftermath of not being good enough will only cement your destiny as a failure. Instead, take what didn't work and use it as a springboard to being better than ever next time. Here's what to keep in mind:
1. Failure is not fatal unless you let it be.
(Exception to this rule: skydiving.) There will be a next time as long as you're willing. Here are examples of five people who learned from failure and then became super successful.
2. Failing early and often is a chance to get it right when it really matters.
So, examine your failures - as painful as it may be - in order to set a course towards success in the future.
3. Failure proves that you're able to do something. Celebrate this.
Many people never get off the couch. So, your getting up and taking a shot already makes you better than those who merely sit on the sidelines and criticize your performance. If they're not wiling to get in the game, don't listen to them.
What about you? What do you think about failure? Any lessons worth sharing?