If there is any lesson in the realm of personal and professional development that has achieved the status of being axiomatic, it’s the notion that failure is the key to success.
From the infamous Nike commercial in which Michael Jordan reflects on his prior setbacks to Business Insider’s diverse list of 26 Successful People Who Failed At First, entrepreneurs, artists, and other disrupters of the status quo are frequently reminded of the importance of embracing failure.
Failure, in and of itself, however, confers no magical ability upon its participants.
The advantage of failure, far from being inherent to the mere experience of adversity, lies in the practical information we extract from it.
1) I recently phoned a personal friend, who happens to be a General Manager for a mid-size firm and asked him the following question: “What percentage of rejected applicants return to inquire about the reasons for their failure?”
His answer was shocking: “Less than 1%! In fact, I can only think of maybe two or three people who have ever done anything like that with me.”
“What would your response be,” I followed-up, “if scores of rejected applicants came seeking an explanation from you?”
“Well, I’d definitely be honest. If they’re bold enough to ask that question, then they’re probably strong enough to handle straightforward feedback.”
“Would you consider hiring them in the future?”
“Anyone who does something like that strikes me as passionate and teachable. So that might make me more inclined to invest in them at a future time.”
2) My first job in College was as a restaurant server.
I was initially horrible at my position, but I was able to quickly improve because I developed the habit of asking every table if there was anything I could have done better.
I suspect that some of my customers lied to me in an effort to avoid hurting my feelings, but most of them offered useful feedback that I could immediately apply.
The most interesting part of that experience was the fact that most of my critics began with a disclaimer like “Well, only because you asked….” Their choice of wording was a clear indication that they would have never shared their constructive criticisms had I not solicited them.
1) Failing is not the key to success. Learning is the key to success. And failure, just like a textbook, is an impersonal and neutral tool that can be used or misused towards that end. If you want to fail forward, find out why you failed and act constructively on that information. Never confuse bull-headed stubbornness for actual progress. The kind of persistence that wins is the kind that commits itself to the rigorous development and refinement of valuable skills.
2) Failure is involuntary. There’s no way to avoid it. The opportunity to learn and grow from failure is entirely optional. Unless you actively seek it out, you’ll miss it every time.