The Upside of Failure

Photo credit: Chase Jarvis

Photo credit: Chase Jarvis

Why do we view failing as a bad thing? Did poorly on a test: Failure. Or worse, you drop out of school: Failure. You’ll never get a job without that education. You’ll never be successful without a degree. If you quit a project or a sport (regardless of the reason) you’re giving up on your responsibilities and commitments. Big, fat Failure. Regardless of whether or not any of these scenarios were the right fit for you, if you start something you have to finish it, right?

In Major League Baseball, if you strike out (fail) 7 out of 10 times you can end up in the Hall of Fame. Think about that for a second. A baseball player who hits the ball and gets on base 3 out of 10 times can be considered one of the greatest players in history. It sounds crazy to think that a 30 percent success rate is an accomplishment. In an academic setting 30 percent is a solid F (for Failure). In investing, a 30 percent return is an insanely huge success. You would be the king of Wall Street if you could average that kind of return each year. If you only spent 30 percent of your work day doing actual work (which I’m sure none of you actually do) you would be fired. But maybe Woody Allen was right: “Seventy percent of success in life is showing up.”

There is an upside to failure because the truth is that if you’re not failing, you’re not trying. We usually look at it the other way around. You failed because you didn’t try. The takeaway from the examples above is that you’re going to fail more than you succeed. This is a given and it’s nothing to be afraid of or ashamed of. It’s okay to fail. The same as it’s okay to quit something that isn’t working for you. Or, to scrap everything and start over if you’re not getting the result you want. As Henry Ford once said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” What makes you truly successful is whether or not you learn from those failures. The real knowledge is what you takeaway from your failures. What could you have done better? What will be different next time? That’s where the real learning is done. That’s where the big victories are won. Make that 30 percent count.

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One response to “The Upside of Failure

  1. Larry, I can apply this to crossfit quite often. And I struggle with “failing” at a workout. For example, the power snatch, and power clean. I need to realize that these are moves that people work tirelessly on to perfect. If everyone got them on their first try, we’d all be Olympians. Still, I need to find a way to better “cope” with the failure I experience during the learning procedure.

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