This is the second post in our blog series about lessons learned from failures. Over the next couple months we will have guest posts every week from some truly impressive people who will share their insights with our readers. Please come back every Friday and follow the series. This post comes to us from Thom Singer.
Avoidance of the discussion of failure is a popular pastime. Few people publicly admit their shortcomings to others, or to themselves. However, it is through failing that we learn and grow. Trial and error is the key to discovery. Humans make mistakes, stumble, and then try again. All of us have fallen down more times in our lives than we can count. As children learn to walk they consistently fail, but they do not stop standing up. Over and over they rise again. If we stopped getting up after failure we would all be lying still on the floor.
It is said that Thomas Edison tried over 10,000 experiments in his efforts to create the electric light bulb. Were the first attempts failures? Not according to Edison. They were the path toward success.
So why is failure such a tough subject to discuss? In our social media crazy world we live our lives showing others many of our actions and activities. However, Facebook reads as a perpetual “Holiday Letter”. These letters that accompany the annual Christmas Cards usually only spell out the positive actions of the sender’s family. Real life happenings like dad being fired, Johnny being cut from the baseball team and Sally’s husband leaving her rarely make the narrative. The same is true in social media, our triumphs make the stream, but failures tend to not be put into updates, tweets, or blogs.
Many do not look at their failures as the learning experiences that they are, but instead try to forget them entirely or dwell on them in a glow of inferiority. This leaves them blind to the experiential learning or keeps them from trying again, believing they are not capable. Success comes via embracing mistakes, not from running from them. The trick is not to make the same mistakes repetitively.
I have failed. I am proud to admit it. I do it all the time. If I have not tried and stumbled I could never have accomplished some of the things I am most proud of in my career. Happily I will make more mistakes, and while I would never do it on purpose, I will never pretend that I am immune from making a choice that is less than ideal.
In dealing with people I have not always said or done the right thing. Over a lifetime friendships will come and go, and some of those partings are because of the actions we take or the words we say. In looking back at some relationships that were harmed, it is because one (or both) parties messed up. When I screw up, I own it. But I have seen others walk away from great relationships instead of admitting they failed on their side of the social agreement. One former friend and I did not really speak for two decades, but when we talked and both admitted the mistakes that were made; we immediately resumed what was a great friendship.
In my speaking career I have learned the communication skills that I have on stage by having delivered over 400 presentations. The early talks involved some big stumbles, while these days I can still find areas for improvement. But after each engagement I review my actions and look for how I can better serve the next audience. Without this habit of looking at where I can overcome shortcomings, I never could have become a professional speaker.
The stumbles we assess are the tickets to becoming better in all we do. Anyone who tells you they have never failed is lying. And failing to admit mistakes can limit improvement. Instead of avoiding failure, embrace it.
Thom Singer is a professional speaker and the host of the “Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do” podcast. He can be reached at www.thomsinger.com.