“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” – Colin Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State
Our society is obsessed with success. We see people like Jeff Bezos and Oprah Winfrey and want what they have. We watch as the media rains accolades down on bright-eyed entrepreneurs, corporate powerhouses, and beautiful celebrities, and wonder how any normal person could possibly achieve even a fraction of what they have.
Yet we only see the results of their successes. We don’t see the countless string of failures that brought them to where they are today — the sleepless nights, the endless determination, and the slavish dedication to their professions.
We aren’t told how Oprah Winfrey was born to a poor teenage mother in 1950s rural Mississippi, or how her first appearance on television was an abject failure. We don’t often see the countless mistakes that form the framework of Bezos’s success. We aren’t told about the failures of these men and women because everyone is too focused on how they’ve succeeded.
Yet failure is a fundamental part of the business. It’s human to err. To make a bad investment or a bad decision. What differentiates successful entrepreneurs and businesspeople from unsuccessful ones is that the former learn from those mistakes.
Rather than letting themselves grow defeated and discouraged, they pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and keep going, all while asking “what can I do differently next time?”
We’re going to focus on that last part. On what successful people learn when they fail. On what you can learn if and when you do.
Failing Doesn’t Make You a Failure
Just as we’re obsessed with success, we’re also afraid of failure. Successful people, we’re bred to believe, never fail. They’re perfect and capable, and always know what they’re doing.
We’ve already debunked that belief.
The only time you’re truly a failure is when you give up altogether. Failing at something doesn’t mean you’re somehow less of a person. It doesn’t make you any less capable, talented, or skilled.
It just means you made a mistake. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.
No Failure Happens in a Vacuum
There’s very rarely a single reason for failure. More often, when you fall short of your goals, it’s the result of multiple factors working in tandem with one another. Rather than focusing solely on what went wrong, step back and think about why it went wrong.
Ask yourself the following questions.
- What mistakes did I make?
- Were these mistakes avoidable?
- Were there any conditions beyond my control that contributed to this failure? Why were they beyond my control?
- If I were to attempt this again, what would I do differently next time to avoid the same result?
Failure is Always an Option
The best decisions almost inevitably carry with them some degree of risk. Oftentimes, they wouldn’t be worth making if they did. After all, no one ever changed the world by taking the safe route.
“Take risks and accept that failure is an option – that is how you innovate,” explains Bryan Driscoll, founder of Think Big Marketing. “I always tell myself to try just one more time. You only need to try that next time. If you fail, do it again. You can’t help but fail, but progress is worth it.”
Failure is sometimes unavoidable, and that’s okay. If you learn from your mistakes and don’t let them bog you down or crush your resolve, you’ll be just fine. After all, even the best, most capable, most intelligent people fail sometimes.
They just focus on how those failures can help them do better.