Failure as a path to success


Our fear of failure is natural and understandable; we make sacrifices day in, day out to achieve a goal. If we succeed, fantastic, but what if we fall short?

In the immediate aftermath, hitting failure’s brick wall hurts, both emotionally and physically. Coming to our senses, we look up to see all those chances missed and opportunities lost – so clear now – consuming our field of vision.

Stranded beyond our comfort zone, failure sends questions to the core of our being. Do we give up on our goals? Does this wall represent the end point? Those who choose – for it is a choice – to say no, look once more to those lost opportunities and recognise lessons. Chances missed become arrows to new places and fresh possibility.

Excitement sets in, new schemes formulate and the wall of failure falls flat, becoming a boardwalk to the success that is only a little further than we had initially thought.

Below are some lessons gleaned through experience that we should all bear in mind if we are to turn our failures into successes more often and more effectively.

Learn from mistakes of others

Learning from another’s mistakes was key to Sam Collins’s success, and enabled her to write Radio Heaven (2015), a memoir of the American’s experiences of failure and how to thrive off it. After landing her dream job, Sam was bullied by her boss who “used the power of her position to make [Sam’s] work life as miserable as possible.”

When forced out of her job, Sam was disappointed but later reflected that she “had learned a lot”. Having noted how her former boss had mistreated her, Sam had generated a long list of don’ts. “I knew that someday when I had my own business, these would be solid material for my own people policies,” she explains.

Failure is the fabric of success

Lex Gillette, a 31-year-old Paralympian is no stranger to taking on tough challenges. Having lost his eyesight at the age of 8, the long jumper knows better than most how failure is the fabric to success for the best athletes.

At the IPC Athletics World Championships 2015 in Doha, Gillette made an uncharacteristic spatial miscalculation, and landed on concrete adjacent to the sandpit.

“For me I would consider that a moment of failure, I was definitely confused because it’s something that doesn’t happen to me often.” Gillette says.

“I told myself that I’ve had a number of failures in my life, and I’ve been able to tap into that inner strength in order to come back and be resilient,” he continues. Gillette proved himself as the champion he is by following up ‘failure’ with his best ever jump at the competition, winning the gold medal.

Failure makes us stronger

Success may be the goal, but failure is what makes us resilient. Simply put, the more we fail, the stronger we become – so long as we do not give up.

Accordingly, the more resilient we become, the less we expect success to be an overnight phenomenon, and the more willing and able we are to plan carefully for achievement in the long term. Furthermore, chances of success are far greater when our mindset is geared this way.

At a microcosmic level, lifting weights in the gym will damage muscle tissue and will lead to failure when the person exercising is unable to perform anymore reps. Yet the athlete continues because they know those muscles will heal and become stronger, enabling them to lift heavier weights for longer in a few days time.

The same holds true throughout life; failure galvanises our minds and bodies. We just need to be more conscious that with every effort given, we grow stronger in the long run.

Failure inspires

When we learn to break free of the naysayers and other discouragements, our desire to break through to success burns more fiercely in the face of the danger of failure.

Did you know that the legendary Michael Jordan didn’t make the cut for his high school basketball team? Missing out provided the motivation for him to learn the value of failure and how to turn that into success. “It was good because it made me know what disappointment felt like. I knew I didn’t ever want to have that feeling again,” he says.


Sam Collins has taken so much from failure that she heartily recommends “routine failing”. It may come as alarming at face value but her advice underlines failure as an essential facet of all our endeavours.

Beyond this, failure should be embraced as a part of life, celebrated for the experiences it brings and the character it fosters within each and every one of us. The right attitude in the face of failure ensures we keep learning and making the best out of each situation, which in itself is the most successful and rewarding way to live life.

LeadershipMartin Head