Success is delicious. Everyone loves to hear a good endorphin-inducing success story. They love to hear about that eureka moment that birthed the innovative idea that suddenly made you an overnight success. Most people, on the other hand, do not want to hear about the journey. Process. Mistakes. And the unavoidable failure. According to Brian Tracy’s 21 SUCCESS SECRETS OF SELF MADE MILLIONAIRES, the average millionaire has been bankrupt a minimum of three times before they finally get it. This means that at least 50% of our favorite millionaires, whom we look up to and aspire to be, have failed a minimum of three times. The truth is that these hitherto unfortunate incidents, most often than not, made these exceptional men and women better, because they got back up, persevered, and were able to get positive results.
Failure is a despised phase of everyone’s life; the proverbial “wilderness experience” nobody wants to have anything to do with. This is why when we fail, it’s normal to experience a rollercoaster of mild to intense emotions; uncertainty, bitterness, and even guilt. A few people are known to develop self-sabotage tendencies, all in the aftermath of a bad break.
When we listen to those success stories we love to hear so much, one ineluctable point always stands out, and it’s the fact that the individual in question is still standing there because he/she did not stop trying. Most of the successful brands we interact with today have failed so many times before they finally found the right opportunities to leverage into the successful brands they finally became.
Due to the way human beings are wired, people tend to process failure differently. While some would indulge in a lavish pity party, others do not take this pedestrian road. Highly effective people, who went ahead to become the type of success stories that make Bestsellers, were never known to be quitters. They did not become lethargic about finding out where they went wrong; the stories usually report that the individual(s) always tried another way.
People that finally overcame failure are most often people that were able to move past their exasperation and frustration to extract the lessons from a failed project, and even fortuitously find the answers they missed. They are those who were able to move past a mistake and seek teachable moments in the midst of failure; sometimes they were not able to find the answers, but they were able to understand the question better.
The oft traveled road to success is littered with insurmountable challenges, sometimes strategically located at important times in our lives. These challenges are often the testing ground for our resolve, tenacity, and bravery. Oprah Winfrey, America’s Billionaire talk show host, is a woman that endured mind-numbing adversity to become successful. Steve Jobs was rejected so many times by myopic investors, it was enough to pack it up and call it a day, but through sheer perseverance, with the right attitude to failure, he was able to emerge as one of the major players in the STEM sector.
The FedEx story is probably one of the most apropos archetype success stories that illustrate the importance of perseverance. As a student at Yale University, Fred Smith and his colleagues conceptualized an idea of a ubiquitous one-stop logistics company that could handle parcel deliveries through whatever means requested by the client. His professor laughed him to scorn when he read the paper as he found the idea of only one person handling such humongous deliveries daily preposterous and wishful thinking. Mr. Smith went ahead to graduate from college and founded FedEx in 1971.
For five years he toiled and worked hard, but the company was not making money, despite being heavily funded. The schadenfreude of his naysayers was palpable, for all their projections had finally come true. The next logical step was to accept defeat and let it go, but instead, Mr. Smith worked harder and his hard work paid off. FedEx broke even for the first time in 1976 after the company was able to make a daily delivery of 19,000 packages. Today, the company has the world’s largest airline in terms of freight tons flown and is the world’s fourth-largest in terms of fleet size. The company has almost 300,000 employees and sales revenue above $40 billion.
Successful people who overcame failure are the ones who were able to develop the right attitude to failure. Not mugging and crying over spilled milk, but they took affirmative action to correct the mistakes, forgive themselves, and move on. Most people are still wallowing in self-pity because their last mistake shattered their confidence; leaving them too emotionally and mentally drained to help themselves back up. Success is never achieved by accident. How people react to failure, is usually the determinant factor in how far they will go in life. Everyone does not understand that it’s okay to fail, but it’s not okay to wallow in it. Keeping a positive attitude and reflecting on the mistakes made, helps you to extract the lesson that was meant for that unfortunate situation. It takes inner strength and discipline to maintain the right approach to failure and learn illuminating lessons.
HOW TO HANDLE FAILURE
Failure is mostly borne out of mistakes. And the acceptable thing to do when you make a mistake is to accept that you have made a mistake. Most people are still being haunted by the ghosts-of-mistakes-past because they are not brave enough to face their mistakes and do the right thing. When you are down, the smart thing to do is not to keep digging, but to find a way up. To find a way out of mistakes, you must:
· Always try to do the right thing.
· Engage in honest introspection.
· Seek feedback, criticism, or suggestions from people outside your comfort zone.
· Do not be obtuse. Be open to change, and explore different ways of doing things.
· Maintain a positive teachable attitude, to enable you to identify lessons that need to be learned.
· Don’t be afraid to try again.
Keep in mind that failure does not mean that you did not do the right thing, or you are not good enough, it means that you tried a way that just did not work out. Look at it like you spilled wine on your favorite pristine white shirt. The normal reaction is to beat yourself up for being so clumsy, but the next thing you do is to try to salvage that precious shirt. If you try a particular brand of detergent and it does not get the stain out, you don’t give up. You will definitely go back to the supermarket and look for a better brand of soap that will get the job done for you, and save that shirt. Sometimes, you may even have to take several trips to the store to find the right product that finally works. If you approach difficult situations this way, you will realize that the whole process becomes easier, and you get to learn; because while you thought you tried something that failed, on the other hand, you have acquired invaluable experience and learned something new.
In our quest to move up in our careers and expand our network and sphere of influence, it is perfectly normal to encounter challenges, and we may make mistakes that will result in stalling our progress. It’s important therefore for one to maintain a teachable disposition towards challenges. It is always more advisable and profitable to know your demons and study them than to run away from them. Don’t see the process as a setback, but look at it as a lesson that the universe is trying to draw your attention to. Learn that lesson. Get better. Do better.