How to Fail Your Way to Success

In his first inaugural address, March 4, 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression President Franklin D. Roosevelt coined the famous quote “…the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Powerful words at a time of national crisis—reminding us that fear is often our worst enemy in our efforts to reach our goals. One of the most prevalent fears is a fear of failure. While everyone has some trepidation about something. But, according to Psychology Today this fear of failure is so great that is overwhelms their motivation to succeed—often sabotaging their own chances of success and passionate pursuits. But, I would like to propose a paradigm shift—one in which failure is welcome—maybe even celebrated as the surest path to success.

We all fail. That is a fact of life.

  • Hall of fame baseball player, Ted Williams, is regarded as on of the greatest hitters in baseball history. But, he failed to get a hit nearly two-thirds of the time.
  • In 1995, author J. K Rowling completed her first Harry Potter novel only to have it rejected by all 12 publishing houses to which is was sent.
  • American inventor, Thomas Edison, is renown for the litany of failures that he experienced on his journey to discovering the optimal filament for the light bulb.

Yes. Failure is real. But, success can be on the other side of failure—if you keep going and apply learning along the way.

In fact, I would like to propose ten steps that can shift your mindset about failure—allowing you to experience that paragon of success in your own life.

Success is not about being the smartest, the prettiest, or the luckiest.

Rather, success is a commitment to consistency and persistency. And, you must be successful in your thinking before you can be successful in your doing.

Successful thinkers understand that as achievers they must fail their way to success. There are probably few better examples of a successful thinker than Thomas Edison. As such, for each step I introduce an Edison quote to give evidence that failure is indeed the best path to success.

Ten Steps to Fail Your Way to Success

Step 1: Check your pride at the door

Discontent is the first necessity of progress.

Transforming failure to success requires that you not be so arrogant as to believe that errors and shortcomings are beneath you. By checking your pride at the door, you remove the proverbial blinders and permit yourselvef to accept (and maybe even laugh) when experience falls short of the goal.

Humility allows us to learn from others and continually ask how we can do things better.

Step 2: Expect and embrace failure as the cost of success

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” — Thomas Edison

When you allow yourself to see failure as a necessary step to great things, it becomes more acceptable and normalized. It doesn’t catch you by surprise. I’m reminded of the times that I taught my children to roller-skate. I told them if you can’t accept falling, you’ll never be a good skater. Every time you learn something new on wheels, it is going to take a lot of falls to get there. Life goals are the same way.

I like to think of it this way. If you’re too afraid to fail then you’re too comfortable to succeed. Success requires desperation.

Step 3: Believe your idea is great until you’re convinced it isn’t

If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves” — Thomas Edison

If you don’t believe in your ideas, it is pretty unlikely that anyone else will either. When you believe in something is stirs your emotions. There is discontent and unrest until you see it come to fruition. It fuels your drive.

There is an old adage that the richest land on earth is the graveyard because so many people die with the great ideas inside them.  So, push your ideas.

If you’re like me some of your ideas won’t stand the test of time. Some will need major adjustment. Others need to be discarded. That’s fine. This is part of the refinement process.

Step 4: Consult with wise friends who are willing to hurt your feelings

We don’t know a millionth of one percent about anything.” — Thomas Edison

The insecure person is unwilling to have his ego bruised by constructive criticism. This person prefers someone to sing his praises and get a pat on the back rather than a true “iron sharpens iron” experience.

However, wisdom is evident when you stress test your ideas with people who can objectively scrutinize it. The wise person realizes his own limitations and continually seeks to improve himself and his ideas.

Step 5: Don’t accept YES for an answer

To have a great idea, have a lot of them.” — Thomas Edison

For the achiever, it feels good to get hear the approval for your efforts. It’s easy, however, for such approval to lull you into a false sense of security. Just because there are those who like your idea, doesn’t mean it is as good as it can be.

The person who can’t learn from failure subjects themselves to what psychologists call confirmation bias. In other words, you look for others to tell you what you want to hear.

But, you know the level of creativity inside you. Trust your gut. If you feel that your idea needs to be better, don’t settle for others telling you its good enough. Make it better. Or, at least, get more experienced eyes to assess its merit before deciding that it is as good as it gets.

Sometimes, if it ain’t broke. You need to break it and make it better.

Step 6: See every rejection as a step closer to the goal

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” — Thomas Edison

Ted Williams, J.K. Rowling, and Thomas Edison have proven the point. True greatness does not come without colossal failures. Why?

Because these stumbles build the character that is necessary to be great.

Failings build persistence necessary for greatness.

Knockdowns build courage to get back up.

For the true achiever, tough situations strengthen your resolve. And, resolve is just a step from success.

Step 7: Redefine Success

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” — Thomas Edison

We are socialized to see success as a destination. We are successful when we make a million dollars or own your own business or have 10,000 followers on Twitter. Of course, this means that up until that destination is reached you were unsuccessful (or maybe even a failure).

It’s time for us to redefine success from a destination to a process.

Success is becoming more caring, more determined, and more courageous (to name a few). So, the next time things don’t work as planned, look for the lesson there that positions you to be a better person.

Step 8: Leverage the empathy to serve others at their moments of failure

Just because something doesn’t do what yo planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless” — Thomas Edison

One of the most impactful aspect of experiencing failure is the empathy that it fosters for others with similar experience. You understand that feeling. You identify with the pain, angst, and frustration.

That sense of identification can be a strong magnet allowing you to wield significant influence with others. The adage is true. People want to know how much you care before they care how much you know.

When you identify with their failings and help them see a better path, you touch a deep place in the heart of another.

Step 9: Share your failures to increase transparency and authenticity

Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.” — Thomas Edison

In a culture replete with pretense and fake celebrity, authenticity is golden. Sharing your own failures helps people relate to you. For many people, it normalizes their struggle. It fosters trust.

When people trust you, they follow your lead. They buy your products. They recommend your brand.

Rather than assuming that admitting failure will doom you, you are more likely to find that it will strengthen your relationships.

Step 10: Once you’ve reached a goal, push it until you fail again

There’s a way to do it better. Find it.” — Thomas Edison

When you reach a certain level of success, the stakes and risks often get higher. But, you’ve developed the character, skills, and relationships to sustain that success. It can be easy at that point to rest on one’s laurels.

But, the great ones see possibilities beyond current success. They live with a continuous curiosity as to what can be done better. So, they push themselves out of the known and into less safe domains. They do so with wisdom and discernment. But, these people see something that others don’t. And, they won’t be satisfied until they stretch for it.

I hope that you see how it is indeed possible (and usually even required) to fail your way to success. It’s a reconceptualization that is rooted in an eternal optimism that you are created with purpose and wonder beyond what you can even imagine.

For you, failure is not an option.  You were built for success.

Leave me a comment and let me know how you have transformed your failures into success or maybe what makes it difficult for you.