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Failure: the Road to Success

I remember back to a time, several years ago now, when I was working in a large corporation and was putting together project management plans for the CEO. There I sat talking to a co-worker explaining the next presentation and how I feared it wouldn’t be exactly what he was looking for. She looked at me and said, “What if it’s not?” I couldn’t believe my ears. My eyes must have bugged right out of my head because she looked as surprised as I did.

“I don’t fail.”

The next words out of her mouth resonate with me still, years later, as I sit here with you all today…

“How do you learn if you don’t fail sometimes?”

There was no answer.

Finally, I whispered, “I don’t know.”

I didn’t know. My whole life it was what I had come to expect of myself. What would that say about who I was as a person if I made a mistake? And it would mean everything. I would be “less than” and that’s nowhere near where I wanted to be.

I was terrified of hearing those words “everything looks great………but.”

Then the words rushed in…

“if you just…”

“I bet if you…”

“why can’t you…”

“if you only…”


What I really heard was…

“YOU will never be GOOD ENOUGH!”

“YOU are an IDIOT!”

“YOU can’t ever do ANYTHING right!”

“why are YOU SO STUPID!”

That internal language kept me from learning for so long; learning that I was “enough” and that sometimes to you have to fail in order to succeed.

In JK Rowling’s commencement address to Harvard in 2008, she advised, “failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way.” Steve Jobs also had many “failures” before his success with Apple. And he acknowledged many of them in his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford.

Here’s the thing. It’s not failure, is it? It’s trial and error. And, we all do it.

Getting Past Failure

The true “failure” comes from not learning. But where do we start? Where did I start?

  1. I asked for feedback. I did! I went to those whom I trusted and asked for advice. I asked open-ended questions and listened.

  2. I removed my ego. I took a step back and tried to look at the bigger picture. Failure does not equate to rejection. While my work represents me, it wasn’t/isn’t me. I was/am so much more than a piece of paper or a presentation.

  3. I realized that “practicing” failure was actually very uncomfortable and I didn’t like being there because it brought up many emotions I had been pushing down for far too long. I choose to live in the discomfort and address the feelings as they reared their ugly heads. Soon I realized that those internal voices were very harmful to many areas of my life and had been sabotaging me for far too long.

  4. I also realized that I would rather try and fail than to never try at all. To never live and experience life was not somewhere that I wanted to be.

There are three easy steps here (I know, you just read all that and here’s the breakdown…but, come on. I’m still learning to) that you can follow with each and every experience that if you use, you will come away with a much stronger sense of success than failure.

Where could you improve?

What’s the takeaway?

Incorporate it for next time.

And when you start to get a little down on yourself, just remember our dear Thomas Edison…

“I didn’t fail 270 different times; I found 270 ways not to make a light bulb.”

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