How many times have you heard the old saying “If at first, you don’t succeed try, try again?” When Thomas Palmer penned that famous proverb back in 1840 it was initially used to encourage American schoolchildren to do their homework.
Today, it is a popular metaphor used in motivational posters, t-shirts, and memes. What do you think? Do you believe that continued effort will eventually always result in success?
I’ve never really been a huge fan of that train of thought. Sure, the continued effort will continue to build the necessary knowledge which could increase the odds of success… however, success is never guaranteed.
Thomas Edison’s journey to developing the lightbulb is often quoted as an example. Edison made over 1,000 unsuccessful attempts before finally succeeding. A reporter once asked him”How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.’
Personally, I’ve lost track of the number of times that I’ve “failed” in an endeavor… even after repeated attempts. Sure it’s frustrating, disheartening, and depressing, but, guess what? Failure truly makes us stronger. Athletes and weight lifters know it best – Michael Moses, a team doctor for the Marine Corps Marathon, the Washington Redskins and the Washington Wizards cheerleaders, helps explain the process of training to failure:
“When muscles are overloaded during weight lifting, little tears are made in the muscle itself,” he says. “This microtrauma may sound harmful but is, in fact, the natural response of your muscles when they experience work. The muscle repairs these tears when you’re resting, and this helps muscles grow in size and strength.”
In other words, these failures result in increased strength. So, failure can be positive. Let’s look at four reasons to embrace failure:
1. Failure makes success a little sweeter. Failure tends to help us appreciate victory more. Life wouldn’t be fun if things always worked out. Understand that failure is just part of the game of life… and we are all playing it. We tend to expend a lot of energy running from failure – it’s in our DNA, however, instead of fleeing… try embracing it. Find the opportunity in the adversity. If there truly is a recipe for success, failure is likely the first ingredient.
2. Failure is our best inspiration. When we don’t allow discouragement to hold us back, failure often makes our drive to succeed even more intense. This inspiration is often based on the desire to avoid another failure. Most people didn’t know that Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. “It was good because it made me know what disappointment felt like,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “And I knew that I didn’t want to have that feeling ever again.” This “failure” led to a work ethic that would eventually elevate him to legendary status. If failure makes you work harder or focus more, it’s an experience with tremendous value… A value that can only be learned.
3. Failure builds courage. Failure often allows you to become more familiar with the “feeling” of failure. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as this awareness leads to comfort. This comfort enables and pushes you to take more risk. If you know that you can stomach it, it will no longer threaten you! Case in point – I used to be intensely afraid of public speaking. The first few conferences that I spoke at I was shaky, nervous, and scattered. In fact, I actually threw up prior to going onstage at my first small event! Eventually, this fear subsided and no longer controlled me. I was then free to take more chances and go for larger venues and connect with larger crowds.
4. Failure inspires others. This inspiration often comes at the cost of risk. Even the best leader take risks, and, when they don’t succeed, their courage can still make a difference. Nikola Tesla was an undisputed genius, and one of the greatest scientists and inventors to have ever lived. In fact, he was the creator of many things essential to modern life. Tesla is credited with some amazing achievements, such as inventing alternating current (AC), the induction motor, x-rays, and wireless transmission. Unfortunately, by the end of his brilliant and tortured life, he was penniless and living on the 33rd floor of the Hotel New Yorker, where he died quietly and alone at 86 years old. Tesla’s legacy was so great that even 76 years after his death, he remains a household name and source of inspiration worldwide.
I think Winston Churchill said it best “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”