The Importance Of Failure

Posted by on September 19, 2008 at 1:00 pm

Before the tender age of thirty, he had failed at business twice, suffered the death of his sweetheart, and experienced a mental breakdown. In 1860, he was elected the sixteenth president of the United States.

Perhaps no figure in American history has suffered as many setbacks and failures as Abraham Lincoln. Born into poverty, he persevered through personal tragedies, public failures, and lost elections to become one of the most beloved and esteemed presidents in the history of the United States of America.

Each failure spurred him to try harder, to strive for more, to refuse to give up. Taking the lessons learned from those failures, he was able to create a recipe for success.

Rarely do we learn from our successes. Rather, it is our failures that challenge us and teach us the most. From failure, we learn to strategize. We learn to think outside the box, to look for new angles and search in new directions.

In his compilation “Thoughts Along the Way,” author David J. Seibert notes that esteemed late comedienne Lucille Ball was once asked to leave drama school because it was believed she was too quiet and shy to ever be successful. In his younger years, comedian and director Woody Allen flunked out of a motion picture production class at New York University. William Faulkner, who failed to graduate from high school and was fired from an early postal job, went on to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1949.

How sad to think that the world may have never known the works of these artists had they viewed such developments as a failure instead of as a challenge. Instead of accepting that they could not succeed, they proved that they could. Perhaps Ms. Ball vowed to speak up, to be noticed. Maybe Mr. Allen decided to study harder, to put in overtime. Possibly Mr. Faulkner promised himself to write, and rewrite, and rewrite, until developing the correct turn of phrase, the appropriate sentence structure. Whatever messages these individuals gave themselves, one thing is certain: they refused to quit.

When Christopher Columbus dropped anchor at what was to become known as North America, he was perhaps experiencing the biggest failure of his life. After all, he had set out to sail to the East Indies, and indeed, believed himself to have arrived. Upon discovering his mistake, he could have simply returned to the ship, berating himself along the way, and retraced his route in hopes of finding the point at which he drifted off course. But how different our recitation of American history would be had he done so! He did not meet his original goal, it’s true, but he opened himself up quite literally to the possibility of success in a completely different direction.

Failure is simply a stepping stone, a lesson along the way. It is the opportunity to learn and grow, to take a different route, to see things in a new light. Perhaps Winston Churchill said it best: “Success is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.” When we view our failures as challenges, we’re able to maintain the enthusiasm needed to rejoin the fight.

by Melinda Clayton

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