Failure Isn’t Fatal: Failing Every Day

“Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward.”

~  John C. Maxwell, Failing Forward

Are you failing every day? I think that the more we fail, the more we’re taking risks to achieve our vision, the more we learn about what works and what doesn’t so we can tweak it to be even better the next time, the more we see different opportunities we may not have seen before. Failure can produce greatness in us – if we let it.

Here are 14 highly successful people who failed, and failed, and won!

1. The Beatles: When they were just starting out, a recording company told them “No … we don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” The world couldn’t have disagreed more!

2. Winston Churchill: This Nobel Prize-winning, twice-elected Prime Minster of Great Britain struggled in school, failing the 6th grade. He faced years of political failures, being defeated in every election until he became Prime Minister at age 62.

3. Walt Disney:  He was fired by a newspaper editor because, “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” He started several businesses failing him into bankruptcy. He kept at it and eventually found a recipe for success that brings in billions today from having the Happiest Place on Earth.

4. Thomas Edison: In his early years, teachers told Edison he was “too stupid to learn anything.” He was fired from his first 2 jobs for not being productive enough. As an inventor, Edison made over 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb finally resulting in the design that worked.

5. Albert Einstein: Einstein was a terrible student (as were many highly successful entrepreneurs and CEOs!). He didn’t speak until he was 4 or read until he was 7, causing his teachers and parents to think he was mentally handicapped, slow and anti-social. He literally failed his way through school. He knew his strengths and he was able to change the face of physics and won the Nobel Prize.

6. Michael Jordan: Often lauded as the best basketball player of all time, though in high school Jordan was cut from his basketball team. Luckily, he didn’t let this setback stop him. He said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I’ve been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

7. Stephen King: The first book by this author, the iconic thriller Carrie, received 30 rejections, causing King to give up and throw it in the trash. His wife pulled it out, encouraging him to resubmit. He is now one of the best-selling authors of all time.

8. Abraham Lincoln: While today he is remembered as one of the greatest leaders of our nation, Lincoln’s learned leadership the hard way. In his youth he went to war a captain and returned a private (if you’re not familiar with military ranks, private is as low as it goes.) Lincoln didn’t stop failing there, however. He started numerous failed business and was defeated in numerous runs he made for public office until he became President of the U.S.

9. J. K. Rowling: Before she published the series of Harry Potter novels Rowling was nearly penniless, severely depressed, divorced, trying to raise a child on her own while attending school and writing a novel. Through her hard work and determination, she went from depending on welfare to being one of the richest women in the world in a span of only 5 years.

10. Babe Ruth: He hit 714 home runs during his career, but along with all of them came over 1330 strikeouts as well. He held the record for strikeouts for decades. When asked about this he simply said, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.”

11. Harland David Sanders: You know him as Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken. His famous secret chicken recipe was rejected 1,009 times before a restaurant accepted it.

12. Jerry Seinfeld: Seinfeld is an iconic comic, but the first time the young comedian walked on stage at a comedy club, he looked out at the audience, froze and was jeered and booed off the stage. He knew he could do it, so he went back the next night, completed his set to laughter and applause, and the rest is history.

13. Orville and Wilbur Wright: These brothers battled depression and family illness before starting the bicycle shop that would lead them to experimenting with flight. After years attempting to create flying machines the brothers finally created a plane that could get airborne and stay there – and became the fathers of aviation.

14. Oprah Winfrey: Most people know Oprah as one of the most recognized faces on TV. To get there, however, she endured a rough and often abusive childhood as well as numerous career setbacks including being fired from her job as a television reporter because she was “unfit for TV.”

So What? Failure isn’t fatal. In fact, it is actually required for success—as long as you don’t (ironically) fail to learn from it.

Just accept the fact that you’re going to fail if you’re going to do your best work. And you need to ensure your team understands this, too. Free yourself and your team from the success-limiting shackles of perfection; don’t ruin good enough with perfect.

Failing is just part of the journey and a step toward figuring things out. Do you fear failure or have you made it part of your everyday practice? Take a step back, shout “How Fascinating!” and see what went right, what went wrong, and what you learned from it.

Happy failure today!