• Jane Wheeler

Failure - a surety of life


One of my favorite books is "Failing Forward" by John C. Maxwell. I have read it, studied it, taught it and given it to my children as a gift.

I think if we are going to learn anything in this life - we will undoubtedly learn it from failure and yet we are never taught this in school, at home and definitely, rarely at work. Most of us have been taught that we have to succeed, be perfect, win and that these are the achievements we are all to strive for.

It would be nice if in every endeavor we attempt we succeed, but often this is not the case. In my estimation the attitude of winning only, produces a "failure mentality" in the minds of all individuals - meaning they think of themselves as a failure for not measuring up.

John Maxwell puts it this way: "The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure." Failing Forward page 5.

All of us in the entire human race will fail at some time or another and most of us will fail repeatedly and sometimes over the same darn thing. Failing does not make you a failure - it means that you failed at something and in no way determines your worth or self worth as a person.

What do the phrases - "get back up on the bicycle" or "get back on the horse" convey? That if at first you do not succeed - otherwise known as failure - try, try again. You failed this time at riding the bike successfully (or the horse) but it does not mean because you fell off the bike you are a failure.

One of the things I tried to convey to my staff when I was managing was that I expected them to fail - no not purposely, but I knew at some time they would mess up over something. I informed them that I wanted them to come and tell me as soon as possible. I also told them that I would not be mad because I also mess up and fail and that if I fail, why should I not expect them too? We would fix the mistake together.

The freedom that goes with this mentality is wonderfully simple. I can go forward trying new things and seeing which things succeed and which things need work knowing that my worth is intact and that if something does not work out - it is okay.

I love the illustration of Thomas Edison. Edison was an inventor and held over 1,093 US patents in his lifetime. Thomas Edison tested many different materials to use as a filament in the common light bulb. On google you will find that there are multiple reports and none have the same number but they say that he tried over 999 materials, over 2,000 materials and up to 10,000 materials. I have no idea how many he tried but he tried a whole heck of a lot and he never gave up.

A reporter asked Edison one time if he felt like a failure because he could not get his idea for the filament to work. Perplexed, Edison replied, "Young man, why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up? I now know definitively over 999 ways that an electric light bulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp."

What a cool attitude! Edison did not give way to the failure mentality - instead he grasped hold of the positive and used it to his advantage.

Would not life be more of a journey and adventure if we took the "win" pressure off and allowed ourselves and others the freedom to fail. If we encouraged each other with positive statements rather than negative ones and replaced words like "looser" and "failure" with "now we know" and "awesome!"


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