Failure happens to all of us, and is the greatest of teachers.Have you ever seen a toddler try something new? Like learning to build a pyramid with blocks, or draw a circle with a crayon? Of course they never get it right the first time. The blocks tumble down over and over again, or the crayon mysteriously fails to leave behind a significant mark or design. But they smile and giggle throughout the process – or concentrate intensely – and then when they finally get it right? They beam with excitement and pride.

So what happened to us adults? Somewhere along the way, we stopped looking at failure as part of the process, and started viewing it as devastating, humiliating … something to be feared. In fact, many of us are so afraid of failure, that we stopped trying new things long ago. We’ve convinced ourselves that failure is not an option. We tell ourselves that we must get it right the first time. And if we don’t? It’s a direct reflection of our capabilities and value as a human.

Guess what, people? Failure is normal. Failure is a vital part of the human experience. Failure is the greatest of teachers.

Take J.K. Rowling, for example, who said this on the subject:

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.

And she should know. Before she became one of the most prolific authors of all time with her Harry Potter series, she was severely depressed and almost broke. A single mother, she struggled to put food on the table, and certainly wasn’t taken seriously as a writer. In just five years, she went from being a welfare recipient to being one of the richest women in the world.

So how do we learn to embrace failure, or at the very least, stare at it in the face and flip it the bird?

1.     First, realize that everyone fails.

No one is perfect. So don’t expect your track record to reflect a 100% success rate. This doesn’t mean you don’t do your best, but know that when things don’t quite go the way you expected, you can adjust accordingly and move forward.

2.     Learn to anticipate obstacles.

Your history is the best book of lessons. Identify your trouble spots before they happen. Do you typically struggle with follow-through? Do you have a hard time asking for help? Do you get yourself in over your head and then go into panic mode? If you can learn to anticipate what could go wrong ahead of time, you can find strategies to deal with them and have a plan in place when they do.

3.     Practice failing.

It might sound strange, but purposely find something you know you won’t be able to do well. Are you a klutz? Sign up with a beginner’s volleyball league. Don’t know your way around the kitchen? Take a cooking class. The point is to do something new, knowing that you aren’t going to be great at it. Expect to fail. Give yourself permission to not know what you’re doing. Then realize that it’s okay. Learn, be open and embrace the experience. The world will not end if you don’t know how to boil an egg, and no one will fault you for it. Just laugh and continue to move forward.

4.     Have a strong support system.

Have you ever been so ashamed of a failure that you keep it to yourself? But then it eats away at you, and you finally confide in a friend, only to find out that the same thing happened to them? Failure is nothing to be ashamed about. Share your experiences with trusted friends or colleagues. You will be surprised at the support you receive, and that experience alone will help you move forward.

5.     Be grateful.

Yes, that sounds a little far-fetched. But so many times, my clients will reflect on their failures and eventually realize it as a gift. Maybe losing that job was the very thing that inspired you to change your career. Maybe that failed marriage illuminated strengths that you never knew you had. Or maybe that disastrous project at work led you to develop new processes that have changed the way your company does business. Learn from the negatives, but also learn from the positives.

6.     Learn from other people.

We all have epic stories of failure. Don’t be afraid to talk about yours, and listen to the tales of others. Successful people have endless examples. Just like J.K. Rowling, a life of fortune rarely happened over night. In fact, take a look at these epic fails by famous people … it’ll make you feel better.

What are your biggest failures?

Let’s get real about failure. Please share your whoppers here, and tell us what happened and what you learned. How did you deal with it, and do you ever feel grateful for your experiences? Leave your comments below.


Most leaders struggle with disengagement, dysfunction, and non-productive behaviors with their teams. We deliver training that develops leaders and engages teams to increase your company results.