Being challenged in life is key to being better at anything that we set out to do. We often clam up once we’re told that we aren’t needed, or we feel others don’t see the value in us. It is easy for us to get upset, get quiet, and hold a grudge towards the person that got the call over us. We’ve failed in our failure.
I am a big fan of failure. I believe that we are meant to fail. It is through failing that we find increased success in life. I will not tell you that it is easy to overcome failure, but the work makes it great. As we fail, we learn to fight. We know to overcome life’s challenges. We know to see problems and be able to solve them better. We learn to succeed. How many issues have you been able to solve because you failed first?
I have had the joy to succeed at many things that I have done. I have seen success come my way more times than I probably deserve. However, these successes have not come without effort or work. I have failed many times in life, in my physical efforts, spiritually, as a parent, and in business. These failures have taught me various things about myself and how to tackle challenges the next time.
One of my most problematic failures to overcome tends to be my attitude. I have felt overlooked for a position, a skill set, a meeting, or a project. Instead of working through it and looking at how I can win the opportunity next time, I tend to push blame or complain about how unjustly dealt with. I fight these demons within me. I let rejection and failure get me down in these instances. Dealing with rejection is one of life’s significant challenges. How do you respond when rejected?
There is a long list of individuals that have created lasting change in our world. The commonalities among many, if not all, of these change agents, are their ability to see a problem, work on the solution, learn from the failure, work diligently, learn to go about it differently, and ultimately create a successful resolution.
Learn From Failure
“I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how many times you failed. You only have to be right once. I tried to sell powdered milk. I was an idiot lots of times, and I learned from them all.”
—Mark Cuban, Interview with Smart Business.
One of the critical things that I have learned from this is that I need to step up, push forward, and move with determination to get it next go around. I put more work in to prove why I am the right choice or why my strategy is the company’s correct pursuit. Whenever I have done this, I have prepared better presentations, I have been more confident, and I have overcome the failure. It isn’t perfect. There were still things that I did not obtain, but at least I know that I did not just roll over. Failure, if pursued, again and again, will eventually turn into success. It may not be on our desired timetable, but persistence does indeed pay off.
I’m not going to say, “go out and keep failing, and you’ll eventually succeed.” That only happens if you learn from failure and make the needed adjustments. There will still be many bumps along the road. Making the proper adjustments is vital. If we learn from what went wrong, then we can align our thinking and strategy to help better us succeed on the next go around. This is where the value of failure steps in. It is not easy to fail and overcome. That is why failure can be so great. It takes a lot of work to turn failure into a success. We become better people, achieve more, and find solutions that otherwise we would not have.
Failure teaches us the strategies, ideas, and methods that do not work. It teaches us that we are doing something wrong. It does not teach us that the overall concept is wrong entirely. If we have a problem that we are working to solve, there might be a way to solve it. Big thinking brings about big changes. But big thinking without making adjustments is just another idea lost in the sewer of a failed change.
Persistence Pays Off
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
We have likely all heard the phrase that persistence pays off. What does this mean for us? If we want to overcome failure and learn from it, it might require us to keep getting after it. If we give up right away, then we may miss the opportunity to do something great.
I love rock climbing. It is not something that I am great at. I won’t break any speed records or set any first ascents. You will not see me scaling up El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. But, you will find me at the bouldering gym or on a local 5.10 up the canyons in Utah.
I have learned from rock climbing is; if you don’t keep at it, you lose the ability to climb the more challenging routes you used to do. But if you continue to pursue and work a problem, you can be reasonably adept no matter your skill level. Working on a problem is the best way to ascend it finally. If you try it once and only get up a third of the way and fail, you have three options: First, you can say, okay, that’s too hard, I’m done; Second, you can keep working on the problem over and over and over until you get strong enough to complete it; or, Third, you can step down a grade and work those problems until you feel strong enough to come back to the more challenging problem then go to the second option.
Please don’t be the one to give up if you can’t figure out a problem. There is a way to complete it. You may need to look at it differently or step back for a while and then return to pursue it at a later date. Keep it in your plans, though. If you completely abandon the problem, then it has won. We will experience success by being persistent.
Failure does not mean that you are done. It just means that you need to look at it differently. If you do, then you will experience success as you push forward.
Know When To Pivot
Yes, it is crucial to be persistent, but that does not mean that all of our ideas will be winners. We need to learn from what does not work, and we might have to pivot. In the example of rock climbing above, an individual will become more skilled and able to tackle more challenging routes the more they work on it, but if you jump straight to 5.14, then you are not likely going to learn the skills needed to climb the route when you could experience them first on a 5.9.
As was expressed above by Mark Cuban, selling powdered milk did not work, so he moved on to something else. He did not give up; he pivoted.
I have seen the benefits of pivoting throughout my professional career. This has benefited me in founding companies, working inside companies, and changing from one industry to another entirely. There are many problems ahead of us that will need to be solved over the next 50 years. These will be as little as supporting oneself through school to solve global warming, lack of fresh water, feed the world sustainably, and so much more. Finding solutions to the vast array of problems in the world will require many big ideas, the need to overcome failure, and a pivot from something that is not working to another strategy to solve the problem.
During the Revolutionary War, General George Washington saw the inability to win in the New York Campaign. He then pivoted and took the bulk of his troops down to meet British troops led by General Cornwallis in Yorktown. It was by pivoting that his previous failures in the War began to become successes. These successes culminated in Yorktown when Cornwallis surrendered, and Brittain gave up the American Colonies to the Continental Congress and the people. After a multitude of failures, The United States of America became thirteen united colonies.
Failure is part of life. As children, we continually failed as we got up and fell. This happened when we learned to walk, throw a ball, ride a bike, spell words, read, and so many other things. If we had given up at any of those, then we would be incapable of survival. Humans are designed to be resilient. We can deal with failure and bounce back. By learning to deal with that emotionally, we can rise above our challenges and become better than we were before.