in life

Failing to Succeed

My friend and client Emily Bennington recently shared the following poignant words about failure after delivering what she referred to as “one of the worst presentations of her career”. 

“When the failure is yours, it huuuuurtsDeep. Bad. Still, I have to take my own advice here and recognize that failure isn’t final. It’s a test – and the difference between those who pass and those who don’t is who gets up and who doesn’t. So while every cell in my body wishes things would have gone differently, this is the part where I have to recognize that I can’t change what happened. I can only learn from it and do better next time.”

The truth is, we’re deathly afraid of failure. Because failing sucks. Because we feel like we’ve wasted our time. That we’ve done something wrong. That we should have, could have done something differently.

In some cases, this may be true. You may have fucked up royally. But even the worst mistakes cannot be undone – the only direction you can move is forward.

Failures are there to remind you that you’re human. And as a human, you’re imperfect. You’re not always going to be “on”. You won’t always get the girl. You may not become rich on that idea that you swore was brilliant and would be your key to a long and prosperous life.

But sometimes you’re going to succeed. And this cannot be overlooked.

I love what John Acuff recently had to say about failure – how we romanticize it as a teaching “tool” – and more importantly, why we should focus on learning from our successes.

“Can failure teach you lessons? Without a doubt. But don’t buy the romanticized version of failure our culture loves to shop around. Losing your only client sucks. Going through bankruptcy sucks. Getting fired sucks. You’ll definitely learn some lessons from those experiences, but having a successful business, having a successful job and having a host of successful clients will teach you far more than failure ever will–if you’ll stop to ask “why?”

Preach. Learning from success can honestly be even more challenging. Why? Because we don’t stop nearly enough and ask “why?” – We fail to see our success, even as we’re succeeding – and don’t pay attention to WHY we’ve had that success.

Our fears, failures, and successes mold and shape us into who we are and what we want to become.

But don’t get so hung up on the failing part – learning from the experiences that suck – all the while neglecting to recognize what you have done.

What you are accomplishing.

And what you will do. 

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  1. Thanks for sharing this Matt. You’re so right about that fact that we rarely evaluate the “why” of success as much as we do failure. Up until I totally bombed… I know I didn’t. :)

  2. Hmm, yes.

    Learning from success is hard. For me, I gloss over success. I see it as something I’ve ticked off a list. As soon as I’ve ticked it off my list, I’m instantly on to the next thing. To learn from success, you have to recognize it as such. That’s something I need to work on.

    On failure, I’m more comfortable with it. I’m used to failing, taking a day to re-align and then getting back in the game. I think I’m invested in learning from my failures because I want them to have had a purpose. If I fail, I want to see the lesson. Yeah sure, I likely re-make old mistakes but each time I’m satiated knowing that it had a purpose.

    So for me, I definitely learn more from failure than I do from success.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

    • You make a great point. When something great happens, or when we complete a hard task, like you said – we check it off the list and move on to the next one. We don’t celebrate our successes nearly enough. THAT’S what “we” (collectively) have to get better with – relishing in the positive moments and learning from them. Asking “why” not only when we stumble, but when we thrive. Cheers!

  3. Gah. Needed to hear this today. I lost one of my clients a few weeks back and have been in a pit of suckage ever since, even though my other clients are heaping crazy praise that I have chosen to disregard as flukes.

    • I’m as guilty as you are of this…we naturally focus on our failures MUCH more and put them under the microscope. Just imagine how great you’d feel if you were focusing on the successes and chalked up the failures as flukes. Ya know?

  4. I actually think I’m more afraid of success! I’m good at failure. I know failure is part of the path of success.. but I don’t feel I’m good at success yet. Failure is so much easier!! Success is.. intimidating.

    • You’re right. It is. VERY intimidating. Managing success is extremely challenging..and it’s hard to really embrace it. But it’s something we, collectively, have to learn to get better at.

  5. Great advice! Failure is something everyone goes and is talked about at length but learning from our success is a fresh approach. Thanks!