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Failing is natural, failing successfully is not. After reading that sentence, you are probably thinking, “is failing successfully even a thing?” I think that is a valid question.

Taken in isolation, fail and successful have opposite meanings. However, when we combine the words, their meaning is transformed into a valuable phrase everyone who has ever learned from a failure and succeeded understands.

Failing Successfully means Learning the Lessons

What does it mean to fail successfully? After reading my article last week, a friend of mine sent me a link to this Will Smith video.  Smith encourages us to “seek failure because that is where the lessons are” and reminds us that “practice is planned failure”.

The defensive coordinator I used to work with always told our players, “Failure is not fatal unless you let it be final.”

If you let a failure be final, you did not fail successfully. If, instead, you learn a lesson from the failure, keep trying, and add the accomplishment of overcoming failure to your success bank, you can fail successfully.

All failures teach a lesson. The first key to failing successfully is learning the lesson.  Henry Ford said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

Failure is life’s feedback that you did something incorrectly. To fail successfully, it is your job to learn what you did incorrectly and make the necessary adjustments to succeed next time. As Smith said in the video, “Successful people fail more than they succeed.”

As I wrote about in my last article, many kids today experience their first failure in college. They make a poor grade on an exam. Instead of looking for the lesson, they give excuses such as, “The teacher did not teach us anything.” or “That test was way too hard.”

I remember visiting with a girl who was home for Christmas break after her first semester away at college. She shared a story of making a bad grade on an exam and going to see the professor to ask for a curve. Deep down, she knew the lesson, but she was actually avoiding it and was looking for another explanation.

She told me that when she asked about a curve, the professor looked her in the eye and said, “I don’t give curves. You need to curve your study habits!” Ouch. That is harsh and direct feedback from a failure, but it exemplifies my point. 

The lesson this young lady needed to learn was her study habits and preparation were not sufficient.  She looked outside for justification first, but landed on the actual reason for failure and it was something she had direct control over.  This is the case with failure more times than not.

The key to failing successfully is to own the mistake and learn the lesson.  Zig Ziglar put it this way: “If you learn from defeat, you haven’t really lost.”

Keep Trying!

The second step in failing successfully is to keep trying. Ever since I can remember, I have told my daughters that, “I can’t” is not allowed in this family.  I make sure they know, “You can! You might not be able to yet, or you might need some help, but you can! To fail successfully, you must learn to keep trying.” 

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” 

Michael Jordan is one of my favorite examples of overcoming failure through trying and perseverance.  As a sophomore in high school, Jordan did not make the varsity basketball team. Jordan wanted a spot on the varsity roster badly and even said he went home, locked himself in his room, and cried after not making the varsity team.

Instead of giving up and quitting basketball all together, he used the failure as motivation to keep trying. “Whenever I was working out and got tired and figured I ought to stop, I’d close my eyes and see that list in the locker room without my name on it,” Jordan would explain. “That usually got me going again.”

As a professional, one of Jordan’s most famous quotes became, “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

The book, 212 the extra degree is all about extra effort and continuing to try.  The authors share a quote from Thomas Edison, who put it this way, “Many of life’s failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Learning failure’s lessons is important, but continuing to try after a failure is an equally important step in failing successfully.

Developing a Success Bank

When you learn failure’s lessons and keep trying, you will succeed.  Remembering this success is the final step in understanding how to failing successfully.

Maya Angelou said it best when she stated, “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”

Overcoming failure builds our capacity to overcome future failure because it builds our confidence.  The confidence of one success overcoming failure leads to another and another and so on.

To take maximum advantage of every success overcoming failure, you must add your victories to your success bank. Your success bank is the place you “deposit” the memories of all the successes you have had overcoming failure. 

Just like a normal bank account, your success bank is also available for withdrawals. When you experience a difficult failure, withdraw a successful memory or two to help remind you that you have done it before and you can do it again.  

Failure is hard. It challenges our self confidence and causes us to doubt our efforts and abilities.  Going into your success bank and withdrawing a memory of a previous success over failure can be the difference between allowing failure to be final and failing successfully.  

Believe is important.  R. S. Grey said, “She believed she could, so she did.”  One of the most effective ways to overcome failure is to believe you can do it.  Belief in our ability to succeed is higher when we have evidence to support our story.  This evidence is stored in our success bank.

The road to success is a bumpy one because it is paved with failures. If we want our daughters to reach greatness, we must help them learn to fail successfully.

To teach them how, make sure they learn failure’s lessons, always keep trying, and rely on their success bank when times get tough.

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