Does Failure Groom Us for Success?

“Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to loose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.”

~ Wilma Rudolph


Relationships end, businesses fall apart, folks change careers, students drop out of school, those in recovery relapse. These may be considered failures or they can be viewed as an opportunity for do-overs.

Consider a child who is learning to walk. Generally, at around a year old, he or she takes a first step. Most likely it will result in a tumble to the ground, with diaper padding cushioning the landing. If there are supportive adults around, clapping and cheering will occur. That little one is likely going to pull up again and take the next step. Nowhere in that child’s mind is the thought, “I’m so clumsy that I will never learn to walk and will scoot around on my butt for the rest of my life.”


Does Failure Build Character?

According to New York Times journalist and commentator David Brooks, who penned The Road to Character: “We live in a culture that teaches us to promote and advertise ourselves and to master the skills required for success, but that gives little encouragement to humility, sympathy, and honest self-confrontation, which are necessary for building character.”

Success and Failure Seesaw

There are times when we feel as if we are on a seesaw that has us up in the air with delight that our goals have been achieved and then bumping our bottoms on the ground as we feel let down that we haven’t crossed the finish line ahead of the pack. Here are some markers that shape our relationship with these two polarities:

  • Lack of belief in your own abilities or faith in them
  • You have figuratively fallen and skinned your knees (or perhaps literally) and are fearful of getting hurt again
  • Perfectionistic tendencies
  • Unworthiness to have what you want
  • Failure can be a self-fulfilling prophecy
  • Your internalized definition of what success means
  • What you were told success means by the adults in your life
  • There may be a family history of failure that seems as if it is encoded in DNA that is passed down from generation to generation
  • Your role models for success and failure
  • An entrenched belief that before you can be happy, you have to be successful, rather than the other way around

How to see failure as friend, not foe:

  • See it as a learning experience rather than one that is demoralizing
  • Refrain from perceiving it as a measure of your worth as a person
  • Be willing to take calculated risks
  • Know that most endeavors are not a matter of life and death
  • Ask yourself if a particular outcome will matter five years down the road
  • Be curious and ask yourself, “Hmmmm…I wonder if I can do it this way…. I wonder how this can work…”
  • Have ‘now what?’ thinking. You can complain, “Oh no, now what?” or motivate yourself by inquiring, “Okay, now what?”
  • Know what you can and can’t control
  • Envision successful scenarios and keep your eye on the prize
  • Know that progress and not perfection is the ideal
  • Stretch comfort zones to the point that a manageable bit of nervousness (not full blown anxiety or panic) is present as fuel for your endeavors
  • View obstacles as exercise equipment that makes you stronger and more flexible
  • Take responsibility for your choices, successes and failures
  • Be open to constructive feedback from those who have been where you are
  • Have a vision for your life and move in that direction, knowing that there will be detours
  • Use positive self-talk to reinforce what you do want, rather than what you don’t want
  • Recognize your resilience, remembering that you have survived everything that has ever happened to you

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