The only way to succeed is through failure. Too often this is a platitude, something we say to make ourselves feel better when things aren’t going well. But, the truth is failure sucks. Failure hurts and I don’t know about you but, I don’t like it. It hurts so much, most of us just avoid doing things so we don’t have to fail. We avoid trying to be successful in order NOT to fail. We play not to lose. not to play to win.
Rather than platitudes and ass kissing phrases to make us feel better about failure and pretending it doesn’t hurt, we’re better served by accepting it hurts, that it’s no fun and that the frustration and setbacks come with success. Once we accept fear as part of life and part of success it no longer troubles us.
Do football players complain about being tackled? Do triathletes worry about the burn? Are skiers concerned about falling? When we accept the risk, the negative, and the discomforts that come with our choices, we no longer view them as negative but rather as simply a part of the experience we’ve committed to. They aren’t inhibitors.
To make you feel a little better and not be such a downer, here are a few folks who have experienced substantial failure only to win in the end.
Henry Ford: While Ford is today known for his innovative assembly line and American-made cars, he wasn’t an instant success. In fact, his early businesses failed and left him broke five times before he founded the successful Ford Motor Company.
Albert Einstein: Most of us take Einstein’s name as synonymous with genius, but he didn’t always show such promise. Einstein did not speak until he was four and did not read until he was seven, causing his teachers and parents to think he was mentally handicapped, slow and anti-social. Eventually, he was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School. It might have taken him a bit longer, but most people would agree that he caught on pretty well in the end, winning the Nobel Prize and changing the face of modern physics.
Winston Churchill: This Nobel Prize-winning, twice-elected Prime Minster of the United Kingdom wasn’t always as well regarded as he is today. Churchill struggled in school and failed the sixth grade. After school he faced many years of political failures, as he was defeated in every election for public office until he finally became the Prime Minister at the ripe old age of 62.
Sidney Poitier: After his first audition, Poitier was told by the casting director, “Why don’t you stop wasting people’s time and go out and become a dishwasher or something?” Poitier vowed to show him that he could make it, going on to win an Oscar and become one of the most well-regarded actors in the business.
Theodor Seuss Giesel: Today nearly every child has read The Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham, yet 27 different publishers rejected Dr. Seuss’s first book To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. (27 TIMES!)
Stephen King: The first book by this author, the iconic thriller Carrie, received 30 rejections, finally causing King to give up and throw it in the trash. His wife fished it out and encouraged him to resubmit it, and the rest is history, with King now having hundreds of books published the distinction of being one of the best-selling authors of all time.
Elvis Presley: As one of the best-selling artists of all time, Elvis has become a household name even years after his death. But back in 1954, Elvis was still a nobody, and Jimmy Denny, manager of the Grand Ole Opry, fired Elvis Presley after just one performance telling him, “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.”
(see an entire list here)
So, here’s the deal. Accept that life is hard. Accept that you are going to fail. Accept that the pain and hurt of failure are unavoidable. Once you do that, trying to avoid failure is a waste of time.
The only the thing we avoid in our effort to avoid failure is success, failure is guaranteed . . . success however, is everything but guaranteed.