succeed in failing pic

If your first thought was “failure”, you’re in good company.  In our culture, the words “succeed” and “fail” are often posed as opposites.

Of course, this is rather simplistic. Cognitively, we know there are many shades of gray between success and failure.  Yet, it’s not uncommon to jump to the conclusion we’ve failed at something if it doesn’t go as planned.

Didn’t get the promotion?  Fail.  Manuscript rejected?  Fail.  Invention doesn’t work?  Fail. Lost the game?  Fail.

Depending on your locus of control (LOC), you either tend to blame yourself when these things happen (Internal LOC) or you blame someone or something else (External LOC).

For those who embrace an Internal LOC, we can be pretty hard on ourselves when things don’t turn out as anticipated.  We could have tried harder.  We should’ve prepared longer. We could’ve done more, and on and on.

Beating ourselves up is not only unproductive, it’s also silly.  Silly, because failure is NOT actually the opposite of success, but rather a necessary stepping stone to ATTAIN success.  In fact, it’s nearly impossible to have great success without the prerequisite of failure.  The “failure” is how we learn. It’s our guidepost to course corrections and the motivation to improve.

Most of us would be hard pressed to come up with examples of great successes that were not accompanied by several failure “stepping stones” along the way.

But in case you need more inspiration, here you go:

Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because, “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

Albert Einstein did not speak until he was 4 and did not read until he was 7, causing his teachers and parents to think he was mentally handicapped.

Oprah Winfrey was fired from her job as a television reporter because she was deemed “unfit for TV.”

Dr. Suess’ first book (“To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street”) was rejected by 27 different publishers.

Stephen King’s first book, the thriller “Carrie”, received 30 rejections, causing him to throw it in the trash. His wife fished it out and encouraged him to resubmit it.

Henry Ford’s early businesses failed and left him broke five times before he founded the Ford Motor Company.

Michael Jordan went home and cried after being cut from his high school basketball team.

And since that time, the basketball superstar has stated, “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I ‘ve been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

So maybe the opposite of success is not failure, but rather giving up.  The key to achieving great things is not to AVOID failures, but to learn from them and then to keep going.

In the words of Sir Winston Churchill (who failed the 6th grade and was defeated in every public office role he ran for until he became the British Prime Minister at age 62), “Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

So, get out there and fail.  With each misstep, you may be one step closer to success!


  1. DTKB Reply

    I love this. In my k-9 world we train for success. Every training module is set up so the dog can’t fail. Starting with simple tasks and moving slowly toward more complex tasks. Each module is a positive experiance. A way for the dog to learn how to do it better next time.

    • Dawn Graham Reply

      Thank you, Kenny – great example to further illustrate the key points of the article!

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