To Succeed, You May Need to Fail

woman_leaderThere is an audacious idea percolating in you right now. It may be a spark in the deepest, most creative regions of your brain — something you haven’t put a finger on yet. Or it may be more fleshed out, just waiting for you to give it life. Are you holding back?

Whether it’s a nascent business proposition or a higher rung on the corporate ladder, the specter of failure can keep you from stretching. You’re not alone. A search engine query on leadership or entrepreneurial topics yields a plethora of quotes and articles about striving in spite of a fear of failure because that fear of failing is pervasive.

You won’t know whether you’ll soar or fall until you try. The aforementioned quotes and articles urge you to try anyway. They tell you the risk is worth the reward that awaits. And they are right, except when they’re not. Because sometimes you will fail. Sometimes you’ll stumble and sometimes you’re going to fail spectacularly. I urge you to head into the risk knowing this, and also knowing that whatever the outcome, the overall reward is worth it.

Bill Gates is quoted as saying “failure is a great teacher.” Consider the skills you’ve learned throughout the experiences in your life. Whether or not these experiences “succeeded” or “failed,” there was a purposeful development of competence within each one.  Be willing to learn whatever you can along the way, and remember that you don’t know when you might use these skills down the road.

Babe Ruth is considered one the best baseball players ever to take the field. He had a career .342 batting average, with 714 homeruns. He also struck out 1,330 times across his career. Success and failure is about playing the odds. To continue the baseball metaphor, you’re not going to hit it out of the park on every pitch. The more you swing, however, the better your chances get at knocking one out.

When we were kids, we took photographs printed on Kodak film. Today, Kodak is a text book example of a company that played it too safe. When one of their own engineers developed the forerunner of digital photography, the company opted not to take the chance on it. They instead continued to focus on their print film business. In 2012, Kodak filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and in the photography space they once dominated now reign the makers of digital cameras and smartphones.  Success requires risk.

Whether something is a success or failure is a matter of perspective. You may not have gotten your brainchild off the ground. You may not have secured the promotion or the new job you interviewed for. You did, however, succeed in learning something. You did garner new skills and experience that will better equip you for your next attempt.  Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  Next time you don’t hit your mark, recognize it as a step toward success and try again.