If you’ve been following my blog posts, you’ll know that although I’ve had my share of failures, I’m not afraid to “own” them and to use what I’ve learned from them to help me along the path to improvement. I think the first hurdle in any endeavor is “daring to fail,” and unfortunately, there are many people who won’t ever try something new because of this. “What will other people think of me if I fail?” is perhaps the first thought that comes to mind. In order to dare to try, one must believe that failure is a necessary stepping stone to success. Daring to fail can offer you great rewards, but only if you believe it can.
How, you ask, can failure possibly be rewarding? I believe it depends completely upon your mindset. If you look at failure not as something to be ashamed of, but instead, as an opportunity to learn and move forward, it can motivate and inspire you to become more successful at whatever you are trying to do. Maybe it’s a risky business idea, or a challenging research project, or getting up on the stage to sing an entire opera from memory, or maybe it’s daring to enter your first big regatta. If you dare to try, and you don’t have the outcome you would have wished for, don’t despair! Consider it an inevitable and empowering step along the upward trend to your ultimate success.
In This is What it Means to Embrace Failure, Jeremy Bloom touches on this concept when he quotes the Tuck School’s Sydney Finkelstein: “That’s the point of embracing failure in a positive way . . . it allows you to move past the negatives and the disappointments and change your mindset from ‘failure is bad’ to ‘failure can be good and here’s how to make it a tool for you.’” In the same article, Bloom also quotes Eric Roza: “Once you’ve embraced failure, you no longer fear it.” That’s an unbeatable combination, don’t you think? But it requires that first scary, risky step – daring to try, and thus, daring to fail.
In Daring Greatly, author Brené Brown writes that she believes that the courage to be vulnerable can transform the way we live. And I’m pretty sure that we would all agree that failing, and the shame of it, can certainly make one feel vulnerable! But it’s that vulnerability, that daring, that is the very thing that can give you the power to grow – to transform you, as Brown believes. Being able to “push the envelope,” and thus, discover where your limits lie, can only happen if you are not afraid to fail. Failure can make you better, stronger, faster – but only if you embrace it as an integral part of your strategic plan. In an online Forbes post, Jeff Boss puts it yet another way: “Winning is a mindset of perpetual pursuit, a belief that there is always something to learn from setback, and that failure doesn’t exist unless you believe it does.” Personally, I have always believed that choosing to appreciate your setbacks as powerful learning opportunities would lead to much greater success in the long run.
So, how can you use your failures to transform yourself into a winner? Here are four things that have worked for me on my own journeys as a singer and as a sailor:
- Decide to make your failures part of your strategic plan
- Recognize each failure as a unique opportunity for growth
- Keep a journal of your failures, and write about the lessons learned
- Always remember that your failures can provide the impetus for subsequent successes
The great Uffa Fox once wrote this about sailboat racing: “Sailing a race can be likened to living our lives: we must learn to strive and not to yield; for failure is not in falling down, but in not getting up and continuing.” Despite many failures, I have always chosen to continue – and thus, my sailing journal is full of “lessons learned.” I refer to it time and again to remind myself of how far I’ve progressed. Among other things, I’ve overcome my fear of gybing in heavy weather, which now seems like very ancient history, but which at one time lost me quite a lot of races. Perhaps most painfully, I’ve learned lessons from a very public mistake I made, and decided that an expensive collision qualified as a step along my path to improvement, and chose to see it as a learning opportunity, rather than a cause for shame. I’ve pushed the envelope, and have failed, but I’ve always learned something valuable for the next race. As Henry Ford once said: “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”
So get out there, and dare to fail! I promise that it will empower you in ways you never imagined.