How to Embrace Failure as the Natural Progression to Success

What makes successful people excel in almost every aspect of their life? What’s the secret?

You know what I’m talking about. Some call it luck. These achievers seem to be able to accomplish amazing things in life and overcome tremendous obstacles. They don’t appear to know what failure is! Our society is consumed with an obsession with failure. A fear rooted so deep that it prevents bright professionals from becoming their best. We feel that failure is a stigma and that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

No Silver Spoon

There’s no luck involved with being successful. In fact, there is no such thing as success without failure. Most highly successful individuals come from below average means and broken homes. According to Tulane University: most entrepreneurs fail 3.8 times before achieving success. Successful entrepreneurs may not always get it right but they do understand that 3 steps forward and 2 steps back still gets you 1 step ahead! The problem is: we’ve been brainwashed into failure avoidance and success expectation.

“Most people believe that they’ll wake up someday and find themselves rich. Actually, they’ve got it half right, because eventually they do wake up.” – Thomas Edison

Expecting Success

Success is not an entitlement program and it doesn’t come without failure. We have an entirely wrong response to what we perceive as failure and it starts with early childhood. Young people are programmed to memorize information in order to get favorable scores on tests, not because of the intrinsic value knowledge holds. Success equals a percentage or a ranking. Consequently, people are poorly prepared to handle failure later in life.

The Lonely Road of Excellence

The loneliest professionals are those that constantly strive for perfection and have little tolerance for mistakes. Those ill-prepared to receive failure are often plagued with fear and doubt. Typically self-imposed impossible expectations of performance spill over onto loved ones and would-be relationships.

I was a lonely over-achiever afraid to fail. As a recovering perfectionist, I know all too well the harsh truth of failure avoidance. By expecting too much of myself: I was never happy with my performance. By expecting too much of others: I was hard to deal with and chronically set unrealistic expectations. Ultimately it took a significant perceived professional failure as a wake-up call to pivot my perspective!

“The increase of suicides, alcoholics and … nervous breakdowns is evidence that people are training for success when they should be training for failure.” – J. Wallace Hamilton

Failure Avoidance

Failure is often misunderstood. By nature, humans focus on the negative versus positive – just watch the news! Our obsession with failure allows us to take isolated incidents and turn them into a permanent label. Did you have stage fright once? It’s likely you’ve labeled yourself ‘afraid to speak in public’. We can take a single bad experience and make it a permanent personal brand! In life, the question is not if you will have challenges. The real question is: how you are going to deal with challenges when they happen?

“The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception and response to failure.” – John Maxwell

We are so afraid of failure that we allow it to overcome our desire to achieve. The harsh truth is that there is NO ACHIEVEMENT without failure! It’s critical to have the bigger picture in mind. The only way to succeed is to persevere. You are the only person that can really label what you do as a failure. Failure is not objective.

Biggest Gains Come From Failure

I have found that the best lessons in life come from failure. We learned to walk by falling … a lot! We learn through failure. Only then are we able to assess outcomes, cause and effect. Was the best tennis player instantly the good the very first time they played tennis? Of course not! No one becomes great at something once. It typically takes repetition, practice, understanding and preparation.

Trial and error is often the best way to find true breakthroughs. This is true in science and in innovation. The biggest gains often come from failed experiences. It’s important to realize that any high achiever doesn’t see a mistake as the enemy. High achievers have a desire to be teachable.

“When we give ourselves permission to fail, we at the same time give ourselves permission to excel” – Eloise Ristad


Overcome Your Obsession with Failure

Acknowledging the difference between failing at doing something rather than being a failure is important to become successful. Adjusting your perspective on failure is the key differentiator between being an average or becoming an achiever.

  1. Failure is Unavoidable: Because we are human, we will make mistakes. The more we resist learning the lessons from our mistakes, the more often the challenge is repeated.
  2. Proper Perspective: People who are achievers see errors or negative experiences as a regular part of life, learn from them, and move on.
  3. Success is not a Destination: Success is a journey we take. Whether you succeed or not depends entirely on what you do day to day. Every day is an investment in your future.
  4. Success is a Process: So is failure. If you got an F on a test in school, it’s likely because you ignored the process of studying and preparing. Success is the process of learning from the journey of life and investing wisely in ourselves.

Accept the Process to Achievement

You can overcome your obsession with failure when you accept that failure is a necessary process to achievement. The fear of making mistakes constantly constrains professionals with bright prospects from taking advantage of opportunities. Even the best aren’t best at everything. The most successful find what they are best at by making mistakes! We will excel only when we separate ourselves from the self-imposed stigma of ‘failure’ and allow space for mistakes. All true innovation happens outside of your comfort zone!

Erin Urban
Erin Urban

Founder, UPPSolutions

Erin Urban, Founder of UPPSolutions, LLC, is a certified professional & leadership development coach with a mission to lift others up to defy their limits and exceed their goals. Erin is an experienced speaker within the professional community, a published author and a member of the Forbes Coaches Council.

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