A few years ago I was excited to be a part of a professional learning organization that was bringing John Maxwell into our community for a speaking engagement. I was very active in promoting the event, including placing an article in my department’s newsletter at work. However, in doing so, I had overlooked the impact that hundreds of people attending the event would have on my department’s budget. I was too focused on publicizing the event to see the big picture. After being questioned about that by a senior leader, being told to come up with a plan and then discussing it with her, she stated, “Well, I hope you learned something from this.” That was quite the understatement.
We all make mistakes and fail from time to time. I have struggled with a fear of failure for as long as I can remember. A few years ago I read Dr. Alan Zimmerman’s book Pivot: How One Turn in Attitude Can Lead to Success with a team member. I remember joking as we started the book that it was funny that two positive people with good attitudes were reading a book about attitude. However, as it turned out, Dr. Zimmerman included chapters about worry and failure in the book. I have to admit that I worry about failing. My wife can tell you that I tended to stress about each new class at seminary after receiving the syllabus. After looking it over and feeling overwhelmed before class even started, I thought there was just no way I was going to be able to do it.
Since we all fail, the key is what we do with those experiences. I’ve been helped in this area by John Maxwell’s books Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn and Failing Forward. Maxwell has written that the major difference between achieving people and average people is their perception of, and response to, failure.
Here are six lessons from failure:
- Failure is difficult, but worth it. Anyone who has tried something and come up short (and that is all of us!) knows that it can be painful. Think of a child learning to ride a bike. There could be some skinned knees and elbows experienced before success is achieved. John Maxwell has written that those things that hurt, instruct. Can you think of failures that have been painful but well worth it in retrospect?
- Failure isn’t necessarily bad. We can be so afraid of making mistakes that we never take any risks, and just play it safe. As a result, we aren’t innovative or moving our organizations forward. Instead, we hold back and never achieve results that we could have. John Maxwell has written that if you succeed at everything you are doing then you are most likely not taking enough risks and not really moving forward. Are you so afraid of making a mistake or failing that you don’t take any risks?
- Don’t make the same mistake twice. Mistakes are going to happen. The key is to learn something from them and not make the same mistake again. If you do make the same mistake over and over, then you haven’t learned anything and there will have to be consequences. However, if you learn from your mistakes and don’t make them again, that can be a positive experience. What is a mistake that you learned from?
- Share your experiences with others. I have shared the story that opened this article with many people since it took place about eight years ago to encourage others to learn from their mistakes. John Maxwell has written that mistakes are painful when they happen but years later a collection of mistakes is what is called experience. Share your experiences with others so that they can learn from you.
- Practice makes perfect. Think of something you’ve worked hard at to master, such as playing the piano, hitting a golf ball or making a presentation. Chances are your early efforts to learn these new skills were embarrassing, but they helped you to grow and develop those skills. Malcolm Gladwell talked about the “10,000 hour rule” in his book Outliers to illustrate his point that achievement is talent plus preparation. What is something that you failed at for some time but now are proficient at?
- Be motivated by failure. I worked with a summer intern a few years back who told me that she was stirred up when someone told her that she couldn’t do something. That made her all the more motivated to prove them wrong. Another team member demonstrated to me on several occasions that he could take feedback, sometimes hard to hear and disappointing, and turn it around and use it for something positive. Make failure your friend and be motivated by it.
These are just a few examples of lessons from failure. There are many, many more. What lessons do you have that you could share?