Why You Need to Be a Success at Failure

How we learn, adapt and thrive

Posted Oct 07, 2016

Failure is an inevitable part of being a human being and we might as well get used to it.  But what if, instead of getting used to it, we made use of it.  I believe that failing is our own inbuilt human learning curve.  If we greet failure as part of an informative feedback loop then it is something to welcome.  After all it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you deal with it.

We live in a society that emphasizes success and winning.  But these are the end products of a process of learning, something which we inevitably do if we fail.  Many a person who has passed their driving test first time has found themselves a little cocky on the road and had a near miss or two before they’ve learned caution.  However, the student who fails their test and takes it again obviously has more driving hours and if they are to pass their test, will have had to learn from their mistakes and pay particular attention to any weaknesses that were flagged up.  I know whose passenger I’d rather be.

Many of us resist trying things because we think we wont be good at them.  However, we're missing out on life this way.  All of our life is a learning experience and a process not an end result.  The experiences and impressions we gain when attempting something new are our life.  We have nothing else but our experiences in the here and now.  So plunge right in and start living and if you fail welcome the information you get from that.

Stan Wawrinka, the tennis player, has a Samuel Beckett quote tattooed on his arm.  “Ever tried. Ever failed.  No matter.  Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”  For you non-tennis fans out there, Stan is Swiss and virtually the same age as Roger Federer, arguably the greatest tennis player there has ever been to date.  Roger Federer is also Swiss and Stan grew up alongside him, going to the same tennis tournaments and inevitably coming second. Why didn’t Stan give up?  He got older and older, failing to win a major, Dokovic was on the scene and Rafael Nadal and then Andy Murray.  Stan Wawrinka chose to continue, learning all the while from the matches he won and the matches he didn’t, consolidating the knowledge he needed to break through and become a three times Grand Slam winner.  Many said he’d never do it but I believe that failing taught him many lessons: to be tenacious, to learn the other person’s tactics, to realize that this really was what he wanted to do and by failing better each time he lost, he managed to improve by small increments that on the right day consolidated into a winning formula.

So if you fail at something (which you will); firstly, be kind to yourself.  Use encouraging talk.  However your childhood was: encouraging, dispiriting, fairly ordinary, harsh, remember you are not a child now and as an adult you need to champion yourself.  So ask yourself: What happened?  What can I learn from this?  What could I do better?  What did I do well?  Who might help me next time?  Use every opportunity when things don’t go according to plan to gather useful information which will help you next time. Then pick yourself up and start again.  After all, most of life is a learning curve.  And remember: If you think you can or if you think you can’t – you’re right.