The fear of failure can hold people back from achieving their human potential, especially in scenarios where failure is a very real (and perhaps likely) outcome. But the most successful people know failure is an inevitable step on the road to success, and as such, they fail forward.
What does it mean to fail forward?
John Maxwell writes in his classic book “Failing Forward” that “the difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure”. Achieving people aren’t somehow immune to failure or born so skilled that they’re already at the top of their game. The difference is when they stumble, they treat it as a necessary and valuable part of improving and learning.
Most people that you hear about who are enjoying success will have traveled a road littered with failure, but you often you don’t see that part. Success appears to come overnight only when the world is unaware of the toil that took place. We all learn to walk, but we forget that it was an arduous process. A baby stands and falls hundreds of times until they finally master the skill. Imagine if they never tried to walk because they knew they would fail? The failure itself is the ultimate teacher.
The only way a child learns to walk is by failing to do so many times.
Don’t mistake the highlight reel for the actual game
If you only ever watched the highlights reel of a sporting event, your perception of how competent and consistent a given athlete performs would be extremely distorted. It’d be like watching a cricket match and only seeing footage of all the sixes, but missing all the outs with no runs.
Don’t mistake the highlight reel for the actual game.
Consider the case of Elon Musk. His aerospace company SpaceX is currently a success, but things looked a lot shakier in the beginning. The goal of the company is to revolutionise the rocket industry by doing something no other company or government has been able to do – reuse rocket boosters by landing them after launch.
The company was founded in the early 2000s, and in the time since has experienced failure after failure, with numerous rocket explosions and unsuccessful attempts at landing a booster. Musk, as the frontman of the company, had to weather a lot of the criticism in the meantime, proving his mental toughness. Only now are they able to land rockets with a predictable regularity. Someone tuning into the story today, however, only sees the success – not the years of failure and frailty.
How failing forward allows you to become more risk confident
When you accept failure as a necessary part of becoming successful, your tolerance for risk is only going to increase. Whereas very risk-averse people see failure as something that should be avoided at all costs, people that fail forward learn that the consequences of failure are not as bad as they may seem. Having the courage to fail – and doing so – is infinitely more valuable than being so afraid of it that you never take the risks that could take your career to the next level.
Having the courage to take risks is the key to incredible success.
Ask yourself – is the thing holding you back from taking that chance really the cost of not succeeding, or is it simply the shame of failure itself? Imagine, for a moment, that you could somehow take the risk anonymously. Does that change things? Is that enough for you to be willing to take the risk?
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