Failure becomes fatal only when accepted as a destination

July 2, 2012
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As Sir Winston Churchill said: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Far too many people seek instant results. We want immediate success without tasting failure. We want to have what others have worked hard to achieve without paying the same dues that brought them success. We want to run before we walk — often, even to walk before we crawl — as we seek to bypass the path that life has put before us in an attempt to reach the end without ever recognizing the beginning. 

It seems many invest an inordinate amount of time and effort to avoid the work needed to accomplish individual goals, an investment that might be better directed toward a positive outcome rather than simply trying to avoid an inevitable reality.

Interestingly, a minor redirection of our attitudes could result in a major redirection of our lives.

Success often comes to those willing to think “outside of the box.” New directions, products, goals, destinations, partnerships and alliances never thought possible have emerged from the sluggish economy by those willing to approach their situations as an opportunity rather than an insurmountable obstruction. 

We all do things differently, the degree of success achieved often directly linked to the amount of risk we are willing to take and the confidence we have in the gifts we are given. Identifying our gifts, however, is not enough. We must be willing to apply them toward the accomplishment of intentional actions that produce tangible results, rather than keeping them hidden under a basket where they may be treasured but have minimal impact.

Most people experience failure at some time in their lives. Only those who choose stagnation by accepting whatever has been handed to them without question or objection avoid both the trials of rejection AND the rewards of accomplishment. Our comfortable existences (built upon personal dreams that came to fruition through hard work and determined actions) will often crash upon rocky shores — be dismantled by a stormy world and its altered expectations — but our ability to overcome adversity can be measured by our ability to look beyond “what is” toward “what could be.” 

Stories about plant closings and personal loss became more the norm than the exception during the past several years as the negative overshadowed news about business expansions and individual gain, but those seeking “light” have been able to navigate through the darkness. 

We must learn from the lessons of yesterday as we experience today and move relentlessly toward a brighter tomorrow.

Overcome the beliefs and conditions from your past, casting them aside and throwing them to the wind as you advance toward the accomplishment of each new goal, never allowing your potential to be limited by traditional expectations imposed upon you by others. Each of our successes should become a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Success can lead to insignificant obsolescence without continuous attention directed toward ongoing improvement.

Failure is not fatal unless we accept it as a conclusion to our actions rather than an unanticipated detour along the way. Let us not look into the face of failure only to find that “it is us.” Move forward with courage to establish lofty goals, never resting on the laurels of past successes. Seek new mountains to climb, refusing to be lost in the dark valleys of missed opportunity. We can stop what we are doing (bringing all forward progress to a standstill) and feel sorry for ourselves when failure visits, OR we can use the moment to regain our perspective as we move forward.

Those who choose to rest when they fall may never gain, their failure becoming a fatal flaw within their existence. Those striving to move forward after picking themselves up rarely taste defeat for they differentiate between those things that are probable and those that are possible and then act to bring them to fruition, transforming their thoughts and dreams into reality.

We are emerging from the depths and burning off the fog that slowed our journey, yet our destination has not fully materialized nor has the road to recovery ended. Failure becomes fatal when we accept it as a destination rather than a temporary obstacle we must overcome by exhibiting the courage to continue forward. While we all assume our share of blame in this world, never allow yourself to be accused of following the crowd you were destined to lead, of becoming an accepted part of the problem rather than an essential part of the solution. 

Were failure fatal, none of us would be alive to experience success. One cannot succeed without first failing; one cannot recognize those things that are possible without first identifying those that may not be worth pursuing and then acting accordingly.

Snatch victory from the jaws of each defeat so that you can continue learning from each failure, learning and moving forward toward an ever-changing end. 

David J. Smith is president and CEO of The Employers’ Association in Grand Rapids.

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