Stop failing!

Watch any “feel-good” movie where a character has to overcome an obstacle of some form and you’ll hear the friend say something like “You can’t win until you’ve failed!” or words to that effect. Through history we’ve heard time and again how to really be a success you have to have known failure. Why is this so? Why do you have to fail to know success? Isn’t possible that you might actually be successful all the time?

You’re probably sat there reading this thinking about a time you’ve failed because society has told you that by not doing something the way you had planned means you’ve failed.

Lets look at the urban legend about Thomas Edison. The story goes that upon finally inventing the light bulb a reporter asked him how it felt to have failed so many times before making it work. Edison replied “I haven’t failed once, I haven’t failed a hundred times, I’ve proved one hundred times that it didn’t work that way.” The story changes depending on who tells it from him failing a few times to him failing 10’000 times but either way the message is still correct. Regardless of the fact that Edison didn’t say it and didn’t invent the lightbulb, the statement is still true. [Edison’s actual quote is at the bottom.]

Failure is perceived. It’s something people decide, it’s not determined by a practical outcome even though you probably think it is. It your perception of the result of the outcome that determines if you consider it a failure. So how do you change that?

You change your perception! It’s not that difficult, it just takes a bit of will power and a new frame of mind.

A while ago I put an event on. An information night for a group I work with. I had refreshments ready and people there to help me with the crowds. One person turned up. One the assistants I’d got with me walked out saying “well this was a failure!” and I pulled him back and explained it wasn’t. For two reasons. Firstly, one person had turned up. That’s better than no one turning up. Secondly it was a lesson, and anything we can learn from cannot be a failure.

I looked at all the things I’d done for the event and more importantly the things I hadn’t done, and I started planning a second event. That event took place a few weeks ago to a full house. So much so that we were still trying to find extra seats as the event was due to start.

I’d managed this because I didn’t look at the first event as a failure. It was still a success because it showed me how not to run that event. For your information the thing I missed was publicity. I expected word of mouth to be enough. This next event was publicised in a few different ways and, just the like the first event, was a success, only bigger!

So don’t look at things as failures. Get rid of that word. It’s such a negative word. Tell yourself, like Edison, you’ve just proved that it didn’t work that way.  No matter what it is.  Failed an exam?  You’ve shown yourself the areas you need to work on or maybe that the subject matter wasn’t for you!  Learn from it.  Not a got a job you wanted?  So what can you improve on next time?

After any event, literally anything, ask yourself three questions:

  1. What did I do well?
  2. What could I improve on?
  3. How will implement those improvements next time?

See, we haven’t mentioned failure once.  Remove the word failure from your dictionary!


The actual Thomas Edison quote:

“After we had conducted thousands of experiments on a certain project without solving the problem, one of my associates, after we had conducted the crowning experiment and it had proved a failure, expressed discouragement and disgust over our having failed to find out anything. I cheerily assured him that we had learned something. For we had learned for a certainty that the thing couldn’t be done that way, and that we would have to try some other way.”

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