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Why Failure is Necessary for Success

January 21, 2013
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IMG_1460I hate failure.

More to the point, I fear failure. It’s a major pain-in-the-ass disruption to the carefully structured images we create for ourselves –  those beautiful Greek-statue marbled facades from whence we derive so much self-assurance and self-worth.

But, alas, ladies and gentlemen, failure is inevitable in this life, in our work, in our relationships, so we best gird our loins.

The sneaky good news, though, is that failure generally fails to destroy us. Yes, this is failure’s dirty little secret. You may be scraped up after a bruising setback , or even crumpled up in a heap on the floor for a while –  but know this: you will survive. You will get up the next day, or the next week, and go back into the ring. In fact, there is usually something good that comes from failure – like, your next breakthrough, for instance.

Case in point: I was once working diligently on a strategic growth initiative to secure a significant asset acquisition (which is secret business code for, “let’s buy a big stinking business”).

It wasn’t going so well.

Upon identification of a worthy acquisition target, these things are generally presented to our Board of Directors, who meet quarterly, for approval. After several months of scrounging and sweating, I was all worked up and excited to bring my first potential deal to the board, which I delivered with a great deal of persuasive conviction.

Unfortunately, it was promptly shot down in equal measure as the Board members raised several concerns. This sort of rejection hadn’t happened to me for quite some time. It felt like a failure.

After the initial sting wore off, I spent the next few months revising my strategy, taking their concerns into account, determined to come back swinging. Next quarter, I returned before the Board with another deal in hand, surely superior to the last. Once again, however, the Board was uncomfortable with it, unable to come to a majority vote of approval.

Twice? This had never happened to me before. I worried I was losing my edge. Along with my job.

Not only that, but it felt as if I had been spinning my wheels for the past six months, having put in all this time and effort with nothing to show for it. There is nothing more frustrating than the passing of time as you are standing in one place with no signs of progress.

Except for the thickening of my skin, I suppose. That’s progress, right?

I respectfully incorporated the Board’s second wave of observations and went back to the drawing board.  The third time is a charm, as they say, and sure enough, the third deal was enthusiastically approved. It was as if those previous two duds had never even transpired!

Basking in the glow of the green light, it dawned on me - it took the first few failures to get to the third success.

In retrospect, it was obvious that we all needed the experience learned from the first two failed proposed deals in order to gain confidence for moving forward with the third. Plus, the third deal, which wasn’t on the market previously, was miles ahead of the other two in terms of quality and long-term benefit$ to the organization.

Dare we say God’s hand was at work?

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2013 10:15 am

    I think the fear of failure is one of those nasty, deep anxieties that brings untold problems into our lives. It’s easy, at least for me, to talk about failure: never give up, keep trying, learn, persevere. But I believe these issues are often still lurking beneath the surface to disable us. Sometimes the best way to get rid of those fears is to be put in a situation where you have to tackle failure. Then you realize it wasn’t so bad.

  2. January 21, 2013 12:21 pm

    You are a feeler-outer. Your are a water-tester. You are a net fisherman. You bring-in what’s out there for a closer-look.

    Fear of success, fear of failure. Fear is against us in all cases but one.

    Furthermore, i offer that our ideas of success is what generally succeeds to destroy us.

  3. January 21, 2013 2:59 pm

    Oh, how I love me some writing that can seamlessly drop in warning to gird one’s loins without missing a beat! You crack me up.

    More importantly, you’ve got some good stuff to say here. I kept thinking, as I was reading this, that not only do we tend to fear failure in our personal and professional lives, but also within the church. Heaven forbid I reveal my failures there.

    And I think the more I try to avoid or hide my failures, the more I reveal my ongoing need for the gospel to work in me and transform me. If I can do everything perfectly, and on my own, then I really don’t have much need for Jesus, do I?

  4. January 21, 2013 4:48 pm

    Love this and agree 110%

  5. pastordt permalink
    January 22, 2013 12:10 am

    How I wish this were not as true as it painfully is. Thanks for writing this truth down so very well.

  6. January 22, 2013 11:35 am

    In our Lego robotics league the kids are facing failure this week. Unlike so many kids activities these days, there is no way to say “Everybody is a winner” when the outcomes are so clear. The robot either works or it doesn’t.

    We do try to help them see the broader picture. What we learn is more important than what we win. But it feels so much better to learn and win!

  7. January 22, 2013 5:27 pm

    Hi! When I was a child I got the best marks at school, I graduated easily every year. And one day… at the university it did not work. When I was a teenager it was so easy for me to have a new boyfriend… but then I got older and my most important relationship ended. In the begining at work as a manager it was soooo easy to implement new projects because my subordinates listened me always… but then I got few new employees who did not want to listen to me at all. With all those “failures” I thought it is the end of the world, but then… it made me so much wiser, calmer and… more compasionate for those whose life was never so easy as my own so far :o).

    Thank you so much for wrapping up this subject in such a perfect way!

  8. January 23, 2013 9:58 am

    Failure is something I avoid at all costs. I don’t willingly fail, just so I can learn something. But the fear of failure does tend to disappear once you’ve been through it a few times. And that makes you more willing to take chances, more willing to expand and reach out, and having a more open, teachable spirit.

  9. January 23, 2013 11:35 am

    What?! You mean, God might use failure??? Not only does the failure fail to destroy us…sometimes it shapes us into being better at what we do and (gasp) who we are. I so appreciate your insights into these things, Jim.

  10. January 23, 2013 4:08 pm

    This reminds me of Thomas Edison who supposedly said something to the effect of that he hadn’t failed–he’d just found a bazillion ways that didn’t work. There are various quotes floating out there, and I don’t know which is right, but the idea is the same. “Failures” are learning experiences and opportunities in disguise.

  11. January 24, 2013 2:04 am

    I hope to eliminate the fear of failure. It’s an energy-draining nuisance. But do we ever truly eliminate the fear of failure? in this life?

    Failure is a learning opportunity. True. But I wake up the next day and seem to need the same lesson all over again. God obliges. Repeat. Perhaps there’s an important difference between eliminating the fear of failure and overcoming it.

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