As a corporate trainer teaching life skills, I have opportunity to sit with people from all walks of life and all levels of success. In my many exchanges with students, at least one person from each class will say something like this: “I feel like a failure in my personal life & business – I simply have not been as successful as I would have hoped.” There is sincerity in their voices and a desire to overcome these feelings and move on. I know, I’ve been there – it seems difficult things seem to be part of the human experience.
While there is no way to avoid problems in our lives there’s certainly a power we possess as humans to push forward through challenges and move on from perceived failures. That’s just it, it is how we PERCEIVE failure that makes the difference.
In his book Failing Forward John C Maxwell states, “The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure.” He continues, “…In life, the question is not if you will have problems, but how you are going to deal with your problems. Are you going to fail forward or backward?”
Failures are certainly not failures if we change how we respond to these necessary life experiences. On average, wildly successful individuals have failed at least 3.5 times in their lives before finding success. We must learn a new definition of failure if we are to truly succeed in life:
- Errors become mistakes when we perceive them and respond to them incorrectly
- Mistakes become failures when we continually respond to them incorrectly
When we experience such times in our lives the key is to understand in our soul that we are not a failure, but that such experiences have deepened our understanding and if utilized correctly, will propel us to success.
Maxwell provides the seven abilities needed to fail forward:
- Achievers reject rejection – instead of saying “I’m a failure”, achievers say, “I missed that one”, or “I made a mistake.” They then adjust and move forward.
- Achievers see failure as temporary – Achievers see any predicament as temporary. Time truly rolls on.
- Achievers see failures as isolated incidents – If you want to succeed, don’t let any single incident color your view of yourself.
- Achievers Keep Expectations Realistic – You have to approach each day with reasonable expectations and not get your feelings hurt when everything doesn’t turn out perfectly.
- Achievers Focus on Strengths – Winners concentrate on what they CAN do, not on what they CAN’T do.
- Achievers Vary Approaches to Achievement – Brian Tracy writes about four millionaires who made their fortunes by age 35. They were involved in an average of 17 businesses before finding the one that took them to the top! They kept trying until they found something that worked for them.
- Achievers bounce back – Life is a series of outcomes. Sometimes the outcome is what you want. Great. Figure out what you did right. Sometimes the outcome is what you don’t want. Great. Figure out what you did so you don’t do it again. That’s the key to bouncing back.
The power is in us to achieve, but achievement is a long hard road filled with failures that in the end bring us power, strength, depth, understanding and clarity. Challenges have the power to make us better humans on all levels. History is filled with those who have achieved by learning from failures and applied the lessons to a new approach and conversely it is filled with those that did not learn from failure. Let us embrace our challenges and move forward!