Have you ever failed at something? Pretty much everyone has at one time or another. We’ve all heard stories about famous ‘failures’ like Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Abraham Lincoln. Those stories have been told so often they sometimes lose their impact. What we sometimes miss are the opportunities to learn from smaller mistakes, or to not see a failure as an opportunity to try again and succeed…or to go after something even better.
Failure shapes us. When I was growing up, my parents had to put up with me being just a LITTLE bit stubborn. Flip that coin over, and it becomes tenacity. When my son was learning how to ride a bike, he didn’t have a natural sense of balance to learn as quickly as other kids did. I broke it down, and worked with him on a daily basis, until I could tell what was causing him trouble. Eventually, he could balance, then ride a little bit…then a little bit more. Since then, he’s done 5 century (100 mile) rides with me. When I was learning how to play the guitar, I would work on a song constantly, breaking it down into parts so that I could learn what was going on, then putting it back together. It took me 4 YEARS to learn how to play Fleetwood Mac’s “Never Going Back Again”….but one day, it just clicked. I’ve learned that I just keep going, I’ll get there…even if it’s not in a straight line.
Failure teaches us. In 1999, I attempted my first marathon, and went after one of the big ones…the New York City Marathon. I under-trained, I took it lightly, and made the mistake of starting near the FRONT of the men’s Open division. I planned to run at a 9:30 mile pace….and to keep from getting trampled, I had to run the first mile in 6:05. The second mile was 6:30, and by mile 4…..I had settled into my 9:30 pace. The damage, however, had been done. At mile 17, after coming down the ramp of the Queensboro Bridge, I started up the (very slight) incline of First Avenue…and started cramping. I limped all the way in, and couldn’t walk normally for about 2 weeks. Five years later, I did the Marine Corps Marathon, trained properly, ran smart, finished 30 minutes faster….and was running again by the next weekend.
Failure guides us. Last year, after a long hiatus, I re-joined Toastmasters, and started working through the Competent Communicator manual. After a few speeches, I participated in the Fall Humorous Speech Contest….and lost – at the club level. My speech was funny – it was the exact same routine I used on stage at the DC Improv…but it was a comedy routine, not a speech – and I lost to a much better speaker. In the Spring, I signed up for the International Speech Contest, and took it much more seriously. I wrote…and re-wrote…got feedback on both writing and delivery, and even got some (literally) world-class training and coaching. At the District competition, I gave the best speech possible…..and didn’t even place. I didn’t view it as a failure, however. My goal wasn’t to win…it was to learn how to make a connection with the audience, which I did. A number of people came up to me afterward, and said that they could FEEL what I was feeling in the speech. Bingo. THAT’S what I was going for. I didn’t ‘win’, but I learned a LOT about how to develop a message and package it into a speech. I have the tools to do it again…and do it better next time.
Are you listening to what you’ve learned by failing? Are you getting up to try again? What can you do, TODAY, to fail? Again. Again…and again….to move you towards where you want to go?