3 Realizations to Help You Fail Forward

fail forward business owner

A few years ago, I had the privilege of speaking to the Katy Young Professionals, a group of younger business leaders in the Katy Area Chamber of Commerce, Katy, Texas. I always enjoy speaking to young professionals groups! Our topic was “Failing Forward.”

One of the most common fears people experience is the fear of failure. Our mindset about failures can be a major game-changer in our business and our life.

Over 10 years ago I was inspired by the book of the same title, Failing Forward, by John C. Maxwell. In it John says:

“The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure.”

I agree. People who don’t care about success and failure are not going to be high achievers. Neither are people who care “too much” because they will be paralyzed by the fear, thus unable to accomplish great achievements. How we view and respond to failure will determine our level of achievement.

This insight is vitally important because throughout our lives we WILL experience set backs. If we truly live, we will experience some failures along the way. So don’t let the fear of failure keep you from living. Helen Keller once said:

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

If we truly live we will experience failure. But here are 3 realizations that will enable you to fail forward.

Failing Doesn’t Mean You Are a Failure

First, realize that failure has no meaning until I ascribe meaning to it.

Author J. I. Packer states, “A moment of conscious triumph makes one feel that after this nothing will really matter; a moment of realized disaster makes one feel that this is the end of everything. But neither feeling is realistic, for neither event is really what it is felt to be.”

Some people ascribe way too much personal meaning to failure. They think that experiencing a failure means they are a failure. That is absolutely not true. The failure in and of itself means nothing. It only has meaning when we ascribe meaning to it. We can ascribe a negative meaning to it or a positive meaning to it. Consider what meaning these individuals ascribed to failure:

  • John Killinger: “Failure is the greatest opportunity I have to know who I really am.”
  • Dave Anderson: “Failure is the hallmark of success. It can be the starting point of a new adventure such as when a baby learns to walk; it has to fall down a lot to learn the new skill.”
  • Dr. Joyce Brothers: “The person interested in success has to learn to view failure as a healthy, inevitable part of the process of getting to the top.”
3 Realizations to Help You Fail Forward, Glenn Smith Executive Coaching

Bridging the Gap Between Failing and Succeeding

Second, realize that the distance between failure and success is called PERSEVERANCE.

There are many inspiring stories of men and women who persevered in trying situations when many others would have quit. But because of their perseverance these people experienced great success due to their perseverance. One of my favorite stories is about R. H. Macy, the founder of Macy’s Department Store.

Macy started working at the age of 15 on a whaling ship traveling around the world. After four years on the ship he worked several odd jobs and then took a position as an apprentice in a printing shop. However he had much greater ambition than that so six months later he struck out on his own opening a small thread and needle store in Boston. Though he worked hard, the business failed within a year.

The next year Macy opened a dry goods store. Again he worked hard but again he failed. The following year he decided to go into business with his brother-in-law, but that didn’t go well so he soon moved on.

After that R. H. Macy and his brother Charles decided to head west and try their hand at mining during the California gold rush. They failed to strike it rich but they discovered that there was an opportunity to make money selling goods to the miners. It finally seemed like things were beginning to work in Macy’s favor – until the gold ran out and the miners left the area. So that came to a disappointing end and Macy headed back east.

His next venture was another dry goods store in Massachusetts. Though by this time he had learned quite a bit about business and advertising, this business failed too. He quickly tried again with a different strategy, a “low price” strategy. But after three years of struggle Macy had to sell out and declare bankruptcy.

At that point Macy decided to get out of retail and become a stockbroker and then a real estate broker. But that didn’t go well either. He had tried five different professions by the time he was 35 years old including six failed attempts in retail. Nothing had really worked for him. Then he decided to try retail one more time in a different location, Manhattan. Because of his great perseverance, Macy finally had real success. We must realize that success is typically found at the end of a long road called perseverance!

Failure Can Be One of Your Greatest Friends

It is only through failures that we learn some of the most important lessons of life. While it is never fun, failure can serve us well if we allow it to. J M. Barrie once said, “We are all failures – at least, all the best of us are.” Failure can make us much better people if we learn to fail forward.

I hope you will embrace these 3 realizations. As a business and executive coach, it is my aim to help professionals become better business leaders and better people. Contact us for more information and to schedule a no-obligation consultation to grow into a better business leader.

Glenn Smith

Glenn Smith

Glenn has been coaching for more than 25 years and is committed to the Code of Professional Standards, and Ethics set by the International Coach Federation. He has created the Business Acceleration Process, a unique and proven process to help business owners grow their businesses while balancing their lives.

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