“At the end of your shift, come see me.” This sentence uttered by an executive to an employee is sure to put fear and trembling into even the most accomplished and dedicated individual. In our Fortunate Failures series, relates the lesson he learned from a conversation that started just that way.
Failure can be a badge of honor if we learn the lessons it teaches us. Reed learned about failure of character. But he didn’t give up, run away, or avoid the conversation. He finished his shift and stepped into his boss’s office to face that fear. And he learned a lesson and learned to value the lesson. Reed states, “It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, always do your best.”
The fact that there is no lack of successful people willing to discuss their failures is telling.
Failure Wakes Us Up
Failure often has the power to wake us up, literally in Reed’s case, to an awareness of other possibilities, outcomes, and solutions. Henry Ford, whose first company went bankrupt, once said, “Failure is only the opportunity more intelligently to begin again.” Yet, why do so many of us fear failure? And why do we assume the worst-case scenario?
Fear Motivates Us
In her article “,” Forbes contributor Stephanie Burns states, “So, we know that fear is a coin with two heads. It can motivate us or cause us to run, but we can choose the motivation aspect and let fear motivate us to do more, and do better. It’s up to us how we want to train ourselves to cope when we feel fear.”
As so many business leaders and employees find themselves facing real and perceived failures from business slowdowns to loss of employment, this seems an ideal time to reflect on some so-called fortunate failures.
Failure Puts Us in Good Company
Misery loves company. Or so goes the expression. The truth is we feel less alone when we know that others have experienced what we’re going through. A more positive twist on the expression is, “We’re in this together.”
A simple internet search for famous failures yields a bounty of results. Albert Einstein failed in his career as an insurance salesman. Beyonce lost during her appearance in the Star Search competition. Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first television job. A producer once described Fred Astaire as “Can’t Act. Slightly bald. Dances a little.”
When asked about his many failures in developing the electric lightbulb, Thomas Edison famously responded. “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”
Failure Isn’t Failure If We Keep ‘Doing’
Valuing the lessons failures teach us elevates those failures to stepping stones or opportunities. Of course, particularly during a pandemic, some failures are simply beyond our control. But there’s a lesson there as well. Rather than allowing a failure to stop us in our tracks, we can, as Stephanie Burns states in her article, train ourselves to cope when we feel fear.
And coping, we can conclude from each of our famous failure examples, involves action. Always do your best. Nearly losing a job because of a mistake makes us less likely to make the same mistake again. Keep going.
Losing a job doesn’t mean an end to our career. For some, it can mean starting a new business; for others, it can mean finding a similar job in a more stable company; for yet others, it can be the catalyst for starting a new career altogether. And realistically, some people may find themselves in jobs outside of their chosen path, in jobs that pay much less than their previous ones, or even unemployed.
The point is to keep trying (doing) and continue working towards your goals. Failures will happen, but changing our perspective on those moments to see them as stepping stones is a simple mindset shift that keeps our momentum heading in a positive trajectory. And a positive trajectory can carry us through difficult times.
What Thomas Edison had that set him apart was an unfailing ability to not see failure but to see progress. When we connect the dots of his work, with over 1,000 patents to his name and the successful invention of the lightbulb, we see success—not failure—just as he did. His trajectory was net positive.
The trick for us then is to follow the failures of our lives, connect those points in time—those dots—to see how they led us to opportunities, and trust that those dots will lead us to future success.
Failures will happen, but changing our perspective on those moments to see them as stepping stones is a simple mindset shift that keeps our momentum heading in a positive trajectory.