“The greatest mistake we make is living in constant fear that we will make one.”
– John Maxwell
Like most driven, motivated, type-a leaders, I’m not afraid of much. I’ll make decisions, I’ll lead teams, I’ll take risks. I don’t shy away from speaking in front of crowds of any size. At the top of my bucket list is diving with Great White sharks off the southern tip of Africa, and I’m not kidding when I say I’d do it in a heartbeat. I can really only think of two things I’m afraid of. The first is (in all seriousness) Cedar Point’s freakishly tall, slow-moving, unstable deathtrap they call a ferris wheel. Go get on that thing and I promise you that by the time you get to the top (which takes about 10 minutes when you account for all the time you spend sitting still while they let people on and off) you believe you’re going to die. Stop judging me, it’s terrifying.
The other is failure.
Yet I have failed so much in my life that it’s amazing that it still scares me. It should probably feel commonplace or routine by now. Still, if you’re like me, the risk doesn’t scare you…it’s the idea of failure, great or small.
Yet, failure can actually be beneficial. It can be a springboard that launches you forward toward success. The key is learning the art of failing forward. Simply put, it’s learning to get up after you’ve been knocked down, brush yourself off, refocus, and move on. (John Maxwell actually wrote an entire book about this, and it was life-changing for me.)
These three principles will help you adopt a healthy perspective of failure.
- If you never fail, it only means you aren’t doing anything. And I guarantee you that 100% of the time, anyone who tells you that they never fail are simply not leading or living. They’re isolated and static, and there is absolutely no positive or forward motion in their life. Failure is natural to anyone who is attempting to do anything of value or consequence.
- Failure can be the best thing that’s ever happened to you. Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. Failure can be devastating and can wreck your life, your career, or your leadership. Or you can use the momentum (yes, momentum) of failure to your advantage. You see, failure doesn’t have to be backwards motion. Even if you fall down, it’s still motion. Use those opportunities to reevaluate, reprioritize, and refocus. Move forward in a better direction. Failure may briefly get you down, but it can only keep you down if you choose to stay in that place. (Tweet this)
- Failure is the greatest catalyst for success. Why? Because it keeps us humble and motivated. If all we experienced was success, we’d have no true appreciation or hunger for it. As an inventor, Thomas Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at creating the light bulb. Upon his eventual success, a reporter asked, “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.” Failure is motivational when you view it as a step in the journey to success. (Tweet this) When you set out with that understanding, failure is no longer something to fear, but rather it’s something to use. It can propel you on to a greater success than you would have experienced if you had never failed at all.
I used to fear failure. Although failure is still painful, I’m learning to manage that fear and instead to view failure as a necessary part of leadership that can actually help me succeed. No one wants to fail, but you don’t have to fear failure if you have a strategy for failing forward.