Grasping success from the clutches of failure

January 24, 2011
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Failure is not a life sentence. It does not have to produce a long-term, insurmountable negative impact on you or your life. In reality, failing can often empower you to achieve a level of greatness you never dreamed possible.

Many successful salespeople have learned that each occasional success is preceded by many failings — but too few individuals embrace that reality.

I have found there are four basic “secrets” that could transform an individual’s shortcomings into immediate successes.

1. Change your perception of "success" and "failure."

Most people see themselves caught between two extremes: success and failure. They feel they must either fully accomplish the goals they have established or their falling short will automatically label them a failure.

What would happen if we altered this perception, seeing failure as but one of the paths to success? What would happen if we studied our failings as openly as we celebrate our successes? What more might we be able to accomplish if we claim the freedom to learn as much from what did not work as we do from the actions that accomplish our intentions?

If we were to view failure as inevitable — as a requirement rather than a possibility — and be judged not by whether we may have failed but rather by what was learned when we fail, perhaps we could accomplish great things by taking risks once thought unacceptable.

While I would never suggest that anyone seek failure, if they simply accept it as being inevitable, as a necessary stepping stone on the path to success, it will become a more regular stop on the road to their destination.

2. Intentionally increase your rate of failure.

Nobody could argue with the premise that the more we try, the more we ultimately will succeed. If “trying” means doing things that we have not done before, things we are not trained to do or accustomed to doing, then it is logical that, as we attempt to do more, we also fail more.

If trying more results in both failure and success and we learn from our failings as we move toward success, should we not intentionally increase our failure rate so that we succeed both by “winning” and by not repeating what resulted in “losing”? 

3. Set flexible (process) goals rather than firm (destination) goals.

Everyone sets goals, but we usually establish our goals around the successful accomplishment of a specific task. What would happen if we focused on the process as opposed to the outcome?

If we do things the way they have always been done while expecting a different result, we would define insanity. If, however, we expect different results because we are doing things differently, seeking new and untested methods to accomplish them, we would inevitably expect to encounter failure from which we would learn along the way.

Think how much might be accomplished if we set a goal of trying five new ways to accomplish something — knowing that at least four of the paths could lead to failure — rather than trying so hard to accomplish one specific goal. How much more could we “win” and how much greater could our “wins” be if we truly focused on the “new” rather than constantly seeking the tried and true?

4. Accept your successes gracefully but celebrate your failures with reckless abandon.

It is natural to be excited when we taste success. We want to celebrate, to give ourselves a reward or even throw a party. We should never minimize the “victories” we achieve, but we far too often fail to maximize the successful navigation of each detour along the road — those things we see as being distractions or bumps along the way.

Why do so few celebrate progress, the many minor accomplishments that pave the path of progress? Far too many people save their celebrating until their goal has been accomplished — a single act or event that was the culmination of many starts and stops. Do not “dodge” the praise of another when it is sincerely offered; gracefully accept it and spread it around when appropriate, but never live only for such recognition.

Successful individuals allow life to be a series of small celebrations rather than a set of significant events. If we build our hopes on reaching a destination, where do we go once there? Should we not feel more exhilarated as we move forward toward an objective, knowing we have many more options and activities to celebrate along the way than we do once we have “arrived”?

I would gladly trade one successful “end” for a dozen potential “new beginnings” any day.

Many individuals have suffered through job loss, reductions in pay, elimination of benefits and fear for their future. Those who required a “why” before moving on may still be waiting for success to reveal itself from the jaws of failure.

Those who found joy in the journey, however, and were able to move forward, have been able to leverage their negative situation as a springboard toward potential opportunity.

Stop letting failure have the negative hold it has on your thoughts and emotions.

David J. Smith is president and CEO of The Employers’ Association, a not-for-profit provider of human resources solutions since 1939.

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