Failure is Not
by Dr. John C. Maxwell
Have you seen the inspiring commercial that Michael Jordan did for
Nike? It's the one where he talks about all of his mistakes, such as the free throws and
game-deciding shots that he's missed over the years.
I love that commercial
for its right attitude about failure, but I'm even more impressed with it after seeing a
follow-up interview with Jordan.
A reporter asked Michael Jordan if the
statistics that he quoted in the commercial were correct. Jordan's response? "I don't
Now that answer surprised me at first, until I realized its
significance: Michael Jordan is so unconcerned with failure that he truly has no idea
how many shots he's missed in his career or how many games have been lost because of his
mistakes. He simply took the word of the statisticians at Nike for those numbers.
Like Jordan, we all fail. Success isn't based on
"avoiding" failure, but on "facing" it correctly. William A. Ward said, "Failure should
be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary
detour, not a dead-end street."
Successful leaders don't avoid failure. They
"handle" it --successfully. Over the years, five observations have helped me maintain
the right attitude toward failure, and I believe they can help you too.
ON SUCCESS, NOT FAILURE
The book of Proverbs in the Old Testament
tells us that the way we think determines who we are: "As he thinketh in his heart, so
is he. .." (Prov. 23:7, KJV). Thus, when we focus on failure, we actually risk MAKING
Years ago, the Flying Wallendas, a family of high wire
performers, received a lot of attention for their death-defying feats. But tragedy
struck in 1978, when at age 73, Karl Wallenda, the patriarch of the family, fell to his
death while attempting to walk a tightrope between two buildings in San Juan, Puerto
What many people don't know is that this incredibly skilled man, who'd
completed thousands of successful wire walks in the past, had spent the three months
preceding this attempt "thinking about falling".
A newspaper reporter,
writing at the time of his death, commented, "When Karl Wallenda poured his energies
into not falling, rather than into walking the tightrope, he was destined to fall."
If you spend much time worrying about failure, you, too, increase your chances of
taking a fall.
TREAT FAILURES AS FRIENDS, NOT FOES
people are deathly afraid of failure. They see it as their worst enemy. But successful
people recognize that failures—treated properly--can lead to great success.
Elbert Hubbard said, "Constant effort and frequent mistakes are the
stepping-stones of genius." Failures can be great learning experiences. As a leader, I
believe I've had more failures than most people. But I've also had many successes. Why?
Because to me, "trying" is more important than "not failing". And when I do make
mistakes, I use them as learning experiences, asking, "What did I do wrong, and how can
I do it better next time?"
Don't try to hide your mistakes. Admit them, and
then learn and grow from them. Since you will have failures, why not treat them as the
friends they can be?
VIEW FAILURE AS MOMENTARY, NOT MONUMENTAL
Failure sometimes affects people so negatively that it stops them permanently.
Rather than treating failure as the momentary occurrence that it is, they build a
permanent monument to it that blocks their forward progress.
I remember once
meeting with the leaders of an organization that hadn't grown for ten years. When I
outlined what they could do to grow and expand, the board president exclaimed, "We can't
try those things! We might fail!"
His fear of future failure had already
caused him to fail in the present. Don't let momentary mistakes keep you from long-term
HAVE SUCCESSFUL FAILURES, NOT FAILED SUCCESSES
Abraham Lincoln said "Success is going from failure to failure without losing your
enthusiasm." And he was a man who knew defeat. He was born into poverty. The only
education he received he acquired himself. He failed in business, and he was defeated
numerous times for public office.
With each setback, Lincoln continued to
persevere and learn from his mistakes. Rather than being a failure at success, he
experienced successful failures. The experiences didn't stop him; they taught him.
SEE FAILURES AS FRESH OPPORTUNITIES, NOT FINAL DEFEATS
Apostle Paul is a wonderful example of someone who faced failure positively. Rather than
seeing adversity as defeat, he welcomed it as a fresh opportunity.
shipwrecked on Malta, he ministered to the people. When arrested, he saw it as a chance
to preach the Gospel. As he said, "My dear friends, I want you to know that what has
happened to me has helped to spread the good news" (Phil. 1:12, CEV).
our attitudes are right, failure actually helps and improves us. It gives us a chance to
see where we fall short, to change, and to learn more about ourselves and how we can
grow to our maximum potential.
The bottom line is that "failing to try" is
the greatest failure anyone can experience. If we don't make the attempt, we cannot
succeed. One of the best examples of this can be seen in the life of the baseball great,
Ty Cobb. In 1915, he set what was then the all-time record for stolen bases in a season
with 96 steals. Seven years later, Max Carey set the second-best record with 51 stolen
bases. Amazingly, Carey failed only 2 times in 53 attempts. Cobb failed 38 times in his
134 attempts. I suspect that if Carey had tried more times, he would have set a record
that would be unbeaten today!
As leaders, we must be less like Carey and more
like Cobb. We must make the attempt and become the best we can at whatever God is
calling us to do. And we will only do that if we put failure in the proper perspective.
Failure doesn't have to be final.
John Maxwell is the founder of INJOY, an organization
dedicated to helping people maximize their personal and leadership potential. He
is the author of twenty-one books, including The Success Journey, Developing the
Leader Within Your, and Becoming a Person of Influence.
You can visit
Dr. Maxwell at his Web site: https://www.injoy.com.
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