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Everyone who ever succeeded, failed first

There was a time when the first rule of success, was to avoid failure at all costs.

The unchallenged assumption for generations seemed to be that success/failure was a binary relationship - you were either one or the other; a success or a failure. Success under these terms required people to develop an early aversion to any form of risk, deflect blame when things went wrong, and plaster a smile over any momentary wobble - because being seen as infallible was a necessity of a successful life.

Fortunately, times have changed. Many of the most successful people in the world today - in business, politics, sports and every walk of life in between -  have struggled through bitter disappointment; and are measured not by the fact of failure, but by their growth through and beyond the experience.

Don't believe me? While nobody can take away the pain of failure completely, perhaps these examples of famous failures might help you see the lessons to be learned and shared from even the darkest of moments.


Resilience Through Failure 

There is no doubt that failure teaches you valuable skills - if you let it. There are plenty of times in life when you can not change nor control the fact of failure. But what you can change and control is your reaction to it. Different individuals take different learnings from their own personal experiences, but a common theme is that of resilience - a 'bounce-back-ability' that is so necessary in today's uncompromising world.

“I failed my way to success.— Thomas Edison

By growing resilience through bouncing back after failure, individuals are developing crucial coping skills and the positive attitude to risk that is characteristic of many successful people in all fields. For example, inventor and business man James Dyson talks about the 5126 failed prototypes he created - which cost him his life savings -  before making the successful vacuum cleaner that launched his business.



But learning to bounce back from failure is not restricted to the world of business - a great example, and one in which happiness was shared with countless children as a result of failure, rejection and resilience, is that of children's writer Dr Seuss. Theodor Seuss Geisel, known to children around the world as Dr. Seuss, had his first book rejected by 27 different publishers. This experience could have caused him to give up on his aspirations as a writer - but instead, Dr. Seuss persevered and became a legendary children's author bringing us classics like "The Cat in the Hat" and "Green Eggs and Ham" and selling 600 million copies around the globe.


Rejection is Redirection

Whilst for some, the key learning from failure is resilient perseverance, for others, rejection simply means redirection. Failure teaches diversification, opens new doors, causes people to stretch them selves in a slightly different direction. Failure is not a catastrophe, it is a course adjustment. 

“There is no failure. Only feedback.— Robert Allen 

For some people the redirection is a mere tweak - Henry Ford, famous for his processing methods which revolutionised the automotive industry - launched two unsuccessful businesses before hitting  on a venture which worked.

And for some, the redirection is more pronounced, a process of discovery and reinvention. Vera Wang is a classic example of this model. Known today for her design and fashion empire - and worth over $1billion, Wang started life as an aspiring international figure skater. The lessons learned from this time - picking yourself up after a fall - saw her through her subsequent experiences, failing to make her dream place in the US skating team and being over looked for a position as editor-in-chief of Vogue. This latter experience prompted Wang to tweak her course, and move from reporting on fashion into the world of designing, and the rest is history.


Failure Vs The Status Quo

Sometimes one of the main reasons for failure is the status quo. Trying to catalyse change is hard - the majority of people have a strong bias towards keeping things the same, rejecting those who seek to drive change, even if there are potential improvements. Failure in this case can teach courage of one's own convictions.

“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?Vincent van Gogh

Trusting your own instincts and pushing onwards can be the only option. It can be a hard and lonely journey, but the path less travelled often has the best views.

Someone who experienced this truth is Soichiro Honda, an automotive expert who was rejected by the Japanese business community for his individualistic ideas, before going on to launch the hugely successful Honda motor company, and lead the Japanese auto industry in the 1970s to global popularity and renown. Trusting his gut changed the sector entirely across the world, and every Japanese car you see outside of Japan, in its own way, reminds us of the power of failure.


Success Through Failure

Whereas a generation ago, stories might describe succeeding despite failures, these days you are more likely to hear of people succeeding because of failure. It is not an exaggeration to say that everyone who ever succeeded, failed first - only that some failures are more public and more pronounced than others.

“Failure is an event, never a person.— William D. Brown

Increasingly, failure is seen as something to be embraced, something to experience, and grow through - what ever your field and whatever your life stage. There is even a school of thought that suggests that - like bones which grow stronger through trauma - there are aspects of human experience which are improved with a little challenge and disruption. In other words, and contrary to accepted wisdom, individuals and society alike draw more positives than negatives from failure.


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A fear of failure causes paralysis - if you're afraid to fail, you're afraid to try. So if you're holding back from a decision because of a fear of failure, ask yourself - what would be worse - failing, or never even trying?

"It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed." - Theodore Roosevelt

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