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Are you at a point where you’re considering a change in your life but feel paralyzed by the fear that you’ll fail? Maybe it’s a career change, a change in your relationship, or you’re on the precipice of a new relationship?
Is the fear of failure stopping you in your tracks? Have you considered that your fear of failure could actually be a positive sign?
Albert Einstein once said, “Failure is success in progress.”
Some of the most successful people in business and the arts and sciences are known for how their achievements improved the lives of people in some way. But we seldom hear about the failures they overcame in the process. We don’t hear that they failed over and over before finally achieving their goal.
- Stephen King has sold over 350 million books, many of which were made into movies. But we don’t hear often that his first novel, Carrie, was rejected 30 times before being published.
- Over 53,000 people visit Disney World each day, but we don’t hear that Walt Disney was fired from one of his first jobs at a newspaper. The reason? Because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Imagine that?
- Steven Spielberg has grossed over $8.5 billion from the films he’s directed. But as a student, he was rejected twice when he applied to the film school at the University of Southern California.
The notion that success could be right around the corner is tough to imagine when your idea has just been rejected for the tenth time.
But Stephen King, Walt Disney and Stephen Spielberg each experienced rejections and failure early in their career. And yet they each went on to achieve phenomenal success.
They’ve all influenced the lives of millions of people. But what if, when they encountered rejection from the publisher, the newspaper or film school, they each gave up? What if they interpreted the rejection as a sign that their dream was not meant to be?
If they’d given up during their early failures and decided to take a 9 to 5 like the rest of us, we’d never have read The Green Mile, The Shining or The Stand. We’d never have seen Micky Mouse and the whole family of Disney characters, movies, and attractions. We’d never have seen Schindler’s List, The Color Purple, Indiana Jones, Close Encounters or even E.T.
So What Made Them Finally Succeed?
The difference is, they were never convinced, like many of us, that we must avoid failure at all costs. They treated failure, and even repeated failure, as part of the process.
Each had a vision – of writing, drawing or film-making, and knew it was their calling. They treated failure and rejection as a learning experience and were able to apply their lessons learned and persist.
Breaking the Mindset That Failure is Always Bad
As infants and toddlers, we fail all day long in our attempts to learn basic skills like eating, crawling, walking and talking. But it’s because we allow – or our parents allow us to fail repeatedly, that we experience the most rapid period of growth in our lives.
But once we go out and encounter the world, we’re taught to avoid failure at all costs. We need to get good report cards even in pre-school. We receive “participation trophies” in sports. Some child leagues don’t even keep score, just so nobody goes home feeling any hint of failure.
I know as a parent, it’s tough to see my children experience failure in anything. It’s a tough balancing act, knowing when to step in, and when to hold back and allow your child to develop some coping skills and resiliency.
But if they’re never allowed to experience failure, they’ll never develop the persistence to work through obstacles.
Failure itself is not what prevents us from achieving things in life – it’s the fear of failure that prevents us from even trying to pursue something new.
What Are The Keys to Overcoming Failure?
Henry Ford launched two automobile companies, both of which failed before the third, Ford Motor Company finally succeeded. The first company failed due to low quality and high prices. He walked away from the second company after a fight with his partner.
But on his third try, he achieved huge success when he made the mission of Ford Motor Company to mass-produce cars that customers wanted and had the ability to buy.
He learned from each failure, adjusted his plan and tried again. Ford was quoted later in life, “failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.”
Thomas Edison tried over 1000 different combinations of materials before he successfully invented the light bulb. When asked about his many failed attempts, he responded, “I didn’t fail 1000 times. The lightbulb was an invention with 1000 steps.”
So for each – Spielberg, Ford, Disney and King, some of the common characteristics of their path from failure to success are:
• First, do what matters to you.
• Know that it won’t be universally accepted, and expect rejection.
• Recognize why a particular effort failed – determine if it’s something you have control over.
• What things do you need to do differently next time?
• Repeat your efforts with lessons learned.
Doing what truly matters to you, seems to be a core component to overcoming failure. Whether it’s teaching, selling your own creation, or designing a new iPhone.
Following Your Passions Rather than Profit
Steve Jobs, who was ousted from Apple in 1985, returned and was appointed CEO in 1997, remembered where he went wrong – “my major mistake during those tumultuous years: Letting a desire for profitability outweigh passion.”
And what resulted once he re-focused on his passions?
• The iPod
• MacBook Pro
• The iPad
• The iPhone
• Apple TV
• The iMac
• The iPod Touch
• MacBook Air
Steve Jobs is considered one of the most innovative, forward-thinking visionaries of our era, but he too experienced his share of failure – the Apple Lisa, Macintosh TV, the Apple III. Recognizing why a particular effort failed and deciding to change course isn’t failure if you’ve incorporated lessons learned into your next attempt. But never even embarking on a new venture for fear of any failure is a regret many people carry to their grave.
Fear of Failure Leads to Our Biggest Regrets
One of the biggest regrets of people who know their days are numbered are the dreams they’ve had that have gone unfulfilled. Especially when they were unfulfilled due to decisions they’ve made or never acted on.
The author, JK Rowling was divorced, with a young child and unemployed in the early 1990’s. She had to resort to filing for welfare benefits to support her daughter. The idea for her Harry Potter book came to her while commuting on a train one day. Over the next few years, she struggled to find time to write while caring for her daughter and working in a church.
All twelve major publishers rejected her script in 1995. But a small company – Bloomsbury, agreed to publish 1000 copies, half of which were for libraries. Harry Potter went on to win the Children’s Book of the Year award, and she’s since sold over 400 million books!
JK Rowling, Walt Disney, and Stephen King all figured out that sometimes people in “positions of power” may not have all the answers. They may not always read the desires of consumers correctly. It’s no big deal for them, just another rejection. And most of us will accept the “expert’s” conclusion.
But we can see that success comes only through persistence and the ability to step back, re-evaluate and go in another direction. The ability to re-tool your plan is an essential ingredient to success. To fail over and over, continue to learn and never give up on the idea.
Accepting the Inevitability of Failure
Said JK Rowling, “when you find something that matters to you, invest yourself in it and don’t be afraid to fail.” She felt that despite the difficulties she encountered in her life, the one thing she had going for her was that she could tell a story. Years later, after selling millions of books, she said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”
In Steven Spielberg’s first major movie, Jaws, they experienced so many failures with the mechanical shark, they were forced to step back and improvise. After all, how can you make a shark movie without the shark?
So scenes were changed to “suggest” the appearance of the shark. Spielberg made adjustments onsite and used some of the tools employed by Alfred Hitchcock so successfully. Tools like anticipation, suspense, and soundtrack.
Jaws then went on to become the highest-grossing movie of all time to that point.
Failures Sweeten our Success
To truly appreciate success, it helps to know the feeling of failure. Knowing that you formulated an idea, brought it to fruition, was rejected and then retooled, re-engineered and never gave up. Many people will look back on their most difficult struggles, and remember them as some of the most valuable growth experiences of their lives.
JK Rowling’s daughter once said, “I don’t remember being poor, I just remember being happy.”
Entrepreneurs learn every day, there are so many things they didn’t know they needed to know. But that’s what sets them apart from someone who trades the potential for huge success for the security of a 9 to 5. An entrepreneur will experience failures every day and still see the big picture.
Like the Nike slogan, they “Just Do It” rather than analyze every angle of every possible decision. If it doesn’t work, they adjust and move on. Michael Jordan once said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
So the next time you experience failure in your life, regardless of the scale, remind yourself that you’re in good company.
Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks owner and self-made billionaire, says “The beauty of success, whether it’s finding the girl of your dreams, the right job or financial success, is that it doesn’t matter how many times you have failed, you only have to be right once.”
Look for Success Around You
Look around and talk to someone in your life who’s been successful in some way. In their career, a hobby, sports, personal finance, marriage, or relationships. Ask if they’ve experienced failure along the way, and they’ll probably surprise you.
There’s a good chance that they’ll consider the obstacles and failures they’ve worked to overcome as some of the defining periods of their life.
The material rewards of success may seem obvious to us. But the successful person will be just as proud of the character and determination they’ve developed on their path.
They’re one of the few who accepted the fact that success always involves failure. And they were able to keep pushing every day.
What about you? Is there anything you’ve been putting off because you think you may fail?
As Buddha said, “there are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.”