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April 21, 2022

If You Want to Succeed, Learn How to Fail

If You Want to Succeed, Learn How to Fail

Do you know how to fail? If you are human, you have failed. Did you learn from it?  If you want to succeed, learn how to fail by learning from failure. Notice the word “how” in the previous sentence. “How” implies there is a bad way to fail and good way to fail. The main difference between the two lies in learning something from failure. “How” changes the meaning of that sentence compared to what it means if the word was left out.

If you want to succeed, learn how to fail
Photograph courtesy of Pixabay.

When I was a sophomore in college (Wittenberg University) I served as a counselor to the incoming freshmen helping them get acclimated to college life. Before the freshmen arrived the counselors met and had various sessions on different topics to prepare us to help the freshmen. In one of the sessions one of the counselors said,  “We should encourage the freshmen to fail.”  Most of the other counselors snickered at such a ridiculous comment.

He further explained himself, “Most of the freshmen have been highly successful up to this point and to be accepted by Wittenberg (which was more selective then than it is now). Few of them have failed at anything. And, they are going to fail in life at some point. They need to know that failing is not the end and it might humble some of them.” What he was really trying to say in my opinion, is that we should teach them how to fail – to learn from failure.

As I go through life, I think this counselor made a good point.  We need to learn how to fail. There are two things we are all going to experience. And, it is not death and taxes, because we now have nearly 50% of the population not paying any taxes. No, the two things we all share are death and failure. We should use failure as a learning experience, a chance to start over with more skill and knowledge, and hopefully more determination. We need to learn how to fail.

Failure is a great learning experience. Don’t waste it. For many of us failure seems to be more public and is something we ruminate on – something we have a hard time letting go of. To illustrate this, Nick Saban whose teams have won seven National Football College Championships once said the championship games he remembers most are the ones his teams have lost (now three losses). Losses and failure stick with us. We tend to play “what if” or “only if” when we fail, and there is nothing wrong with that as long as we learn the answers to those questions. That’s how we bounce back from a setback. But, once you figure what went wrong, the focus needs to switch to correcting any deficiency, plotting out a new strategy, and becoming more determined. All of that is hard to do if we cling to the past.

Perseverance is the key to getting past failure. Perseverance may be the most important quality to look for in others. Since this post is being written around Easter, Jesus fell at least 3 times on His way to being crucified, but he got back up each time he fell and completed the mission He was sent to earth to do. There is an important message there. If we clearly know why we are here – what our individual purpose is – then we can withstand anything and failure is nothing more than an obstacle or detour. We each need to discover our purpose for living.

How to Fail: President Lincoln’s Failures

President Abraham Lincoln is a case study in failure. He failed many times but still became President of the United States. For those of you unfamiliar with his failures here is a list.

  • 1832. Lost his job and defeated for state legislature.
  • 1833. Failed in a businessman (storekeeper).
  • 1835. His sweetheart died. This is not a true failure but it is a setback, nonetheless.
  • 1836. Had a nervous breakdown.
  • 1838. Defeated for speaker.
  • 1843. Defeated for nomination for congress.
  • 1848. After being elected to congress in 1846, lost renomination.
  • 1849. Rejected for land officer.
  • 1854. Defeated for United States Senate.
  • 1856. Defeated for nomination for Vice President.
  • 1858. Defeated for Unites States Senate.
  • 1860. Elected President of the United States.

Do you think he learned some valuable lessons from all those failures and setbacks along the way that enabled him to keep the Union together during the Civil War? Had he succeeded at being a businessman, would he have even entertained running for public office? Our failures sometimes redirect our paths to better take advantage of our individual skills.

The Benefits of Failure

Many successful people will tell you that they have learned more from failing or losing than they have from succeeding or winning. What possible benefit can there be from failing? Well, it turns out there are several benefits to failing.

  • Failure tells us what does not work. Failure often leads to new strategies.
  • Failure helps us develop our skills. Failure forces us to sharpen the saw and improve our skills.
  • Failure helps us discover our talents. Failure often redirects us down a different better suited for our talents.
  • Failure tells us where we are and how much further we have to go. Failure is a measuring stick telling us where we are currently.
  • Failure can be motivational. Failure should drive us to succeed even more.
  • Failure should make us more humble, gracious, loving, and understanding. Failure is a great leveling took. It puts us equal to others.
  • Failure stimulates creativity. Failure often leads to “out of the box” thinking which then leads to innovation.
  • Failure develops resiliency or perseverance. Failure means our time has not come. It develops patience and forces us to keep trying.
  • Failure builds compassion. Failure is universal. It helps to better relate to others and be more sympathetic to the failure of others.
  • Failure builds character. In the end, character is the only thing any of us are taking to heaven. Let failure make you a better all around person.

15 Quotes on Failure

Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be.    John Wooden

Success if most often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.  Coco Chanel

Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.  Robert F. Kennedy

Given up is the only sure way to fail.  Gena Showalter

If you don’t try anything, you can’t fail…   Richard Yates

Failure is delay, not defeat.   Denis Waitley

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.  Thomas Edison

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.  Winston Churchill

Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.  Lance Armstrong

We are all failures – at lest the best of us are.  J.M. Barrie

The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.  Henry Ford

There is only thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.  Paulo Coelho

When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.  Eloise Ristad

What is the point of being alive  if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable.  John Green

If you are not prepared to be wrong. you’ll never come up with anything original.  Ken Robinson

As the last quote suggests, there is no innovation without failure.

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Dr. Joe Jacko


Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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