The late and great country singer Johnny Cash once said that “You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” That’s because for most of us failure is just the beginning on the road to success.
Sometimes failing means that you have not succeeded in achieving something. At other times it may mean that you can’t move forward. But it doesn’t always mean defeat. When we try our very best and we don’t succeed at something on our first try. It is a setback, but it is only a failure if we do not learn our lessons, if we don’t grow from the experience, or if we make the same mistakes again.
Henry Ford said “Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” As long as we learn from our mistakes and can begin again more intelligently in the light of our previous errors we are not failures.
If we can grow from the experience of our initial setbacks then our efforts may not always be successful but we are still not failures. The great jazz musician Miles Davis is quoted as saying “Do not fear mistakes, there are none.” What he meant was that we have experiences that we can grow from and if they don’t always go our way, that’s okay too.
The last piece of advice about failure comes from the late Robert Kennedy Junior who said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” If you make a mistake, don’t worry. It’s just a marker on your road to great success.
This is not just Pollyanna thinking or bromides to make you feel better when you screw up. Thomas Edison had thousands of unsuccessful experiments before the light bulb literally went on. And he is not alone. Think about something that you have tried over and over until you finally got it. For me it was Grade 10 math. I failed it the first and second term and thought I would have to stay in Grade 10 forever. At the time a fate worse than death.
I wish I could say that I conquered this demon and became a math brainiac but I just barely passed that subject at the end of the year. But I didn’t let my initial failure stop me from moving forward and while I may never be scientist I am doing just fine as a writer. Starving, sometimes, but if you are reading this then I am a success too.
Mike Martin is a freelance writer and workplace wellness consultant. He is the author of Change the Things You Can: Dealing With Difficult People.