Failure is a winning strategy!

Image from thomasvan.com

Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out. ~ Benjamin Franklin

I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying. ~ Michael Jordan

As I ate breakfast at a local cafe the other day, a little boy pulled out one of his homework books to show his father. “Look, Dad,” he said, “I came third in maths.”  His dad gave him a big hug and replied, “well done, I am SO proud of you.”

Image by managedmoms.com

While the father went inside to place his order the little boy said to me, “I will never beat Alison.  She’s the best in the whole school at maths, but maths used to be my worst subject and now I’m good at it.”

Then he smiled shyly and said, “Alison’s dreamy.”

When I drove home, I listened to the radio.  A well-known motivational speaker was being interviewed.  He said “I won’t accept failure. Failure is for losers.  Winning is everything.  If you want to succeed get that fixed in your head. Winning. Is. Everything.  It’s the only thing that matters. Second place is all about being the first loser. Everything after first is irrelevant.”

Hey, something inside me screamed in objection.  What about kindness?  What about ethics and values?  What about friendship, and doing the right thing? And trying your best? Are they less important than winning at all costs?

As I went about my day, I kept thinking about this person and the message they were putting out into the world, and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to champion failure.

I was no stranger to failure as a child.  Worst of all I would dread school sports days. As I doggedly ran along in my lane, other kids would streak past me, and I was almost always resoundingly, shamefully, embarrasingly last.

Image by entkent.com

What did that teach me? A few things actually.

  1. I am not a good runner.
  2. I might not be a good runner, but I can still be a team player.  Every runner earned a point for their house, though the first, second and third place getters amassed many more. Still, a point is a point, and I could do something to help my team.
  3. I learned courage and perseverance.  I hated running, I hated being last, but I didn’t quit, and that still counted.  Hey, I even got cheered for finishing! (Sad but true.)
  4. No matter how hard I tried I never got any better at running. I learned to be a gracious loser, and to appreciate those with greater skills and talents than me.
  5. Losing made me look for things where I might be able to excel, and eventually I found out that I could swim!

By Thomas Edison’s definition, failure is actually a road to eventual success if you keep sticking at something, learning from each failure as you go.

And what else does failure teach us? We learn that life isn’t always fair.  We learn that we don’t always get what we want. We learn the value of trying our best. We begin to find resilience, and backbone.  We find humour and the ability to problem solve, and to ask for help. We learn to get back up when life has knocked us down.  We learn self respect and courage. We learn to risk and to move outside our comfort zone.  We learn that there are things in life we need to walk away from, and other things where we need to stick with it, and believe in ourselves and our dreams.

We learn not to quit when something really matters to us, and to use failure to propel us on to success. And if we encounter failure early, we are not so frightened or overwhelmed by it as we become older.

Image from rochestersage.org

Failure prepares us for life.  Success is always built upon failure – it is our greatest teacher.

So the question we really need to ask ourselves is not whether we are prepared to fail, but, after having failed, are we prepared to get back up and try again?

30 thoughts on “Failure is a winning strategy!

  1. I really enjoyed this post Nicole. I agree that failure is a great teacher, and I do believe that it’s character building. It makes you think of things in different ways, and sometimes forces you to approach a problem from a perspective you might not otherwise have discovered. Going through life involves repeated failures but I think the failures really help us to grow and become better and more useful individuals. If you didn’t fail at things sometimes you wouldn’t appreciate the joy of getting something right, or have that sense of achievement when you’ve succeeded after numerous mistakes. It can be very deflating of course, when you first fail at something, but I think the older you get the more you realise that failing is an important, and even positive, part of life.

    • Ah, bless you, Lorna! This is such a great response. Failure is still hard for me, it still stings, and I am sure it always will, but at least I can see it in a positive light now, and once I get past the hurt of failing, there are always things to be learned that build a better me. Big hugs to you, my dear! It’s freezing here in Brisbane this morning, so I shall pretend I am really in Scotland 😀 xx

      • It’s freezing here too, so I shall pretend I’m in Brisbane. Cosy hugs for you. I’ve had so many failures in life it’s just ridiculous, constantly trying things that I couldn’t achieve, stretching myself beyond my limits, spending years doing things that are really not my forte at all, but I honestly believe that despite all the many failures, I’ve benefitted from them. Other people who’ve had to put up with the outcome of my failures might not see it in quite the same light, but I’ve certainly been in situations where someone else has been able to feel good because I was so rubbish by comparison. Hey ho, we can’t all be brilliant at everything, and once you find things you’re good at it’s wonderful. I’m sure you must feel that about your gifts, you use them well and you benefit a lot of people. If what you acheve has come about as a result of some failures then I’m glad you’ve made them (sorry if that sounds blunt, I mean it as a compliment!).

      • Taken as a compliment!

        I think all those cumulate failures often are shaping us for a greater success down the track, this may be only obscurely referenced by our current downfalls, and yet will not be possible without them.

        Geez, and I haven’t even had breakfast yet! LOL

  2. Excellent read! My sentiments precisely!

    As much as I like to fly, I will never do no matter how much I flap my arms.
    Wait a minute! I did get to fly! I became an aviator but it never came to fruition as a career and it all stalled, no pun intended, ending up just as a hobby, a darn expensive one too!

    I love the hooliganism of sport bike stunting but I suck at it! Not to mention the costly repairs on mods and the inevitable damage caused by falls, both machine and a bone or two.

    Your 5 points examples are excellent, I’m pretty sure that we all have examples to share, the bottom line is to try, accept the outcome whichever it may be, feel free to try again as long as you don’t obsess…

    Can’t fly, can’t ride! No wonder I’m geeking out in the ‘puter! Sheez!

    • Gee this made me laugh, Tony, especially the hooliganism bit! All these cool things you’ve tried make you YOU, and I’ve always found the most interesting people have your sort of attitude – prepared to give things a go, curious, get up and try again kind of people!

      Thanks for dropping by my blog. Bless xx

  3. Hi C&C,
    Great post, great topic. I don’t think our culture conditions us to succeed along the way. The joy is in the success of you bettering yourself, not just the end result. When I run in a race, it’s actually just me against the clock, not so much me against the other 10,000 people in the race. (I forget this so often. I am prone to compare and berate myself against someone else’s ‘success’). We forget all it took to get to that starting line or exam or challenge, which was a journey in itself.

    Thanks for the reminder to look at all of it and to celebrate success where we are, losers or otherwise. 😉
    Cheers!

  4. Nicole, you are a shinIng light. I so deeply agree with all you have said.

    To me the whole notion of winning is built around the falsehood of good and bad. It denies the unique inate gifts that each of us have and will excel in once we discover them, the ones you spend your life helping those of us lucky enough to find you to uncover.

    I for one can vouch for the need for acceptance of what our world calls ‘failure’ on the path of finding and refining my purpose. It is hard at times. I question myself and my common sense is questioned by others, yet I need to walk my windy path and at times cut it through jungle where noone else has been.

    I choose the word ‘discovering’ in place of failing, and the word ‘mastery’ for when my gifts have been both discovered and fully realised. We are all future masters on a journey of discovery.

    I am immensely grateful that my path of discovery brought me two recommendations to wind my path past your door. It is such a shame there is not one of you in every school inthe land helping each girl and boy to know they are a master on a path of discovery.

    Bless you dear one…..Ure

    • I think all of us get to be both students and teachers, Ure. It made me feel uplifted to see the Dad in the cafe encouraging his son to try and aspire, and for the little boy to be so proud of his own progress, while acknowledging excellence in others.

      Failure is such a negative word in our society, and this idea of ‘winning at all costs’ seems diametrically opposed to the concepts of community, co-operation, moral values and ethics.

      Winning is wonderful, and to have achieved something that is important to us is a tremendous feeling. But failure will have been a part of that formula. I think it’s something we need to be able to embrace.
      Much love and blessings to you too ♥ xx

      http://youtu.be/45mMioJ5szc

  5. i picture the image of small nicole running her heart out and doing her best whilst watching the herd run off into the distance, reminds me of little sarah in her bright blue leotard, red headband, gangly, awkward, ungainly in joh bjelke peterson’s physical culture, doing all those awkward movements, coming last, but trying her heart out and overflowing with the pure joy of doing it! let’s reclaim our whole-hearted, sensitive little people and guard them against the silliness of comparison and brutality of competition, we’ll experience the pure joy of play, doing whatever our heart desires with passion and gusto – our internal measure knows we’re good, damn good!! sx 🙂

  6. I love that Thomas Edison quote. It’s one I say to myself when I’m feeling less than successful (which has been quite often lately!). It goes hand in hand with another things I hold to be very true- you can only be brave if you are scared. So take the leap, even if it’s scary and don’t be afraid to fail.

    I definitely agree that failing builds character and it’s not the act of failing itself that is important but rather how we come back from it!

    Great post, yet again 🙂

  7. Great great post!

    Kids in a classroom always want to yell out the “one” right answer, so they guess or repeat what the “smartest” kid says. They also think the fastest is the smartest. I’m constantly telling my students that when something is hard, and when you’re really working at it, that means you’re learning something new. It’s when you make mistakes that you really internalize the new corrected information. If you already knew everything, you wouldn’t need lessons or to go to school, and also, sometimes the “slowest” kids have the best answers and get the highest scores, There often is no one “right” answer, except in math (and overused standardized tests), and in math there are many ways to find an answer. I also tell them that famous people who are really good at things spend hours and hours a day practicing for years and years. Most concert pianists practice 6 hours a day. No one ever seems to emphasize that about “talent.” Wasn’t it also Thomas Edison who said, “Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration”?

    I have kids ask me which sibling is the most talented at piano, and I have to explain to them that there are different types of musical talent and different styles of music for every talent.

    The rush to win or get the right answer spoils the journey. I had an English professor who said the value in research was not in reaching a conclusion, it was in “digging the hole,” and I agree. Who cares what the answer is? Who cares who’s the best? It’s the journey that counts.

  8. Love it…LOVE it. In a world where ‘winners are grinners’…and ‘losers are losers’…it is so uplifting and comforting to know that giving your best is what is important..and honouring our own special talents and gifts…in whatever shape or form they take.

    I so related to your recall of ‘sports days’… I would give it my all…never got a blue ribbon but it did start me on my path of creativity…I made the most awesome ribbon rosette pins and thick long streamers to cheer our team on….thanks for the memories.

    Also reminded me of my daughter when she was 8, decided that at the swimming carnival to go in the butterfly race…I tried to talk her out of it as I thought she couldn’t swim 50 m of butterfly…but she went in it…was at least 20m behind the rest of the field…but everyone was up standing cheering her on…I was so proud of her that day and she continues to inspire me each and every day…as do my 2 sons as well…how lucky am I!

    Learn from your mistakes…be grateful for the mistakes…and keep on giving your best.

    Big winter’s day hugs to U…just love how U inspire me each and every day…MWA..X

  9. 🌀I love this post! & I love all the other reply’s to it’s comforting to know that others go through this stuff .. and that failure really is a winning strategy.. I tell this to my kids, its how you learn when you make mistakes & its all about having ago.. but realised from this post that I don’t apply this to myself.. I’m always so hard on myself and serious.. about where I should be by now in life feeling like a failure in different areas.. so behind compared to all the successful winners that are way in front of me…
    But there is always a silver lining to be found in all mistakes & failures which really makes them blessings..And we are all better people for it. So thankyou once again for this wonderful new perspective.. 😊🌻

  10. This is a great post, Nicole! And something that I try to instill in my students. When you teach a foreign language, you always have students who are afraid to speak in class for fear of making a mistake. But honestly, I am a native English speaker and I hear other native English speakers mangling the English language ever day. Why should people think that making mistakes in another language any more serious?

    And if you don’t speak up and mangle the language, you don’t learn to speak the language.

    Some people just aren’t wired for other languages. And that is okay too!

  11. Without the failure of trying over and over again, the winning wouldn’t be as exciting! Thanks for reminding us that our failures really should be looked at as steps to acheiving what we really had in mind.
    PS Every time I think of Brisbin, I think of that wonderful resturant on the river where we had Bangers and Mash for lunch. Stay warm. It’s getting hot here.

  12. I loved it Nicole!!
    It’s by failing sometimes that we learn how to do it better. If we never fail, we learn nothing.
    I am the worst runner ever!!! If I try, i fall on my face!

  13. superb!! That motivational speaker you mentioned in the beginning almost made my skin crawl. I just love the way you perceive things, but even more the way you so simply, concisely and perfectly put your powerful and insightful thoughts “down on paper”. I will be reblogging this one as there is no way I could have said it any better.
    much love light and JOY

    • Isn’t it sad that, with such a great capacity to influence, they are telling us that most of us will never be good enough? And because of that, we are unworthy. There is so much more value in doing our best. Much love to you {{{HUGS}}} xx

  14. Reblogged this on Not In India 2012 and commented:
    Nicole has a superb blog. And the thoughts here are powerfully and concisely written. Hope you “get” the message. You might also like to check out her unbelievable recipes. 😀

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