Embracing Failure: A Step Towards Progress
15 May 2017

Embracing Failure: A Step Towards Progress


Let’s get real for a minute: failure sucks

We’re taught as early as elementary school that if you get one of those big red circled F’s on your test, you’re probably going to get chewed out when you get home or, if you’re like me, locked in the basement with no food for 48 hours. The education system continues cementing that mindset all the way through college. When you hit the working world, you start to realize failing can result in unemployment and being forced to think about moving back in with your parents (mine no longer have a basement...whew!). 


Failure is tough. It hurts. It can make you feel hopeless … but if that negative energy is harnessed correctly, it can actually end up propelling you forward. 

Let’s take a look at some famous failures and how the recipient used them:


Michael Jordan. Everyone knows this one, so we won’t spend much time on it. The guy gets cut from his 9th grade basketball team, so he spends the entire year practicing day and night. The next year, MJ wows his coaches in tryouts, makes the varsity team and continues on to become the greatest basketball player who ever lived, complete with six NBA championship rings, five MVP awards and a career average of 30 points per game. On failure, Jordan says: “I’ve failed over and over again in my life … and that is why I succeed.”


Walt Disney. Disney was once fired from a newspaper for “lacking creativity.” Say what? That’s like someone telling John Lennon he was a bad songwriter or Steven Spielberg he couldn’t translate from page to screen. Disney took his termination in stride and decided to launch his own animation company, which failed soon thereafter. Many people would simply hang up their dreams and look for Plan B, but Walt pressed on, eventually winning over Hollywood with his films and bringing joy to people around the world with his theme parks. 

His eventual success has also cost me countless hours of my life watching Frozen with my child, so I am a little bitter, but that’s neither here nor there...


Colonel Sanders. That’s right, the KFC founder failed repeatedly before finally succeeding. Matter of fact, he was told no over 1,000 times before finally launching his first franchised chicken restaurant at the age of 62! That’s after he spent a few years developing the concept followed by a decade trying to make it happen. The Colonel didn’t even start pushing chicken until he was over 50! Just think what the cholesterol of this country would be if he had given up?


Thomas Edison. His invention is a mainstay in everyday life for each of us. He claims to have failed over 10,000 times before finally getting the light bulb to work. I went crazy running around the house when I finally landed a water bottle flip after seven attempts; I can’t imagine what the scene was like when that light finally began to glow! When asked one time if he ever thought about giving up, he famously replied, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”


The list could go on and on, and I believe you would see a recurring theme: never give up. Even in times when the outcome is bleak or feelings of hopelessness set in, these stories prove that putting your head down and continuing to grind it out is the most reliable path to success. 


Take a minute to imagine what your life would be like if every time you entered a dark room you still had to light a candle. 

Remember the look on your child’s face the first time you took him or her to a Disney movie? 

I can’t think of a really good “what would the world be like” scenario if Colonel Sanders had not made such good fried chicken, but I know for a fact that my grandparents would have been much less happy every Monday night when they picked up their Family Fun Pack. 


The kicker is most of us aren’t going to change the world with what we’re doing on a daily basis. So it’s hard to say, “Remember Edison” anytime you’re wavering and you’ll magically snap back into attack mode. What works for me, however, is to regularly take time thinking about the value that my business contributes and how pushing through failure will ultimately make us even better. 


Failing again and again without giving up ends up not being failure at all, but the stepping stones of progress that will end up resulting in success. 


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