What does failure mean to you? When plans do not go as expected, when a deal falls through, when no one enrolls in a program, how do you define this? The larger question is how do you feel in the aftermath, do you feel like a failure and stop, or do you look at the larger picture and keep going?
As a leader, I have had to learn to live with failure, particularly how to overcome failure and keep moving forward. Failure is never an easy place to be, an easy emotion to come to terms with, rather, failure is similar to a gut punch, knocking the wind out of you and leaving you gasping for a breath. How you handle the moments right after this punch will determine your future success.
Countless CEOs have experienced failure, have lost everything in a bad investment, unsuccessful startup, or venture. The great CEOs are the ones who have come back, some more than once, to leave their mark on the world. The secret to their success is their perception of failure. You see, how we view failure will define the level of success we achieve in our lives.
When one perceives failure as a loss and chooses to see nothing but the negative associated with it, they will stop taking risks. They will simply pause where they are, afraid to experience the hurt, sorry for the hard work they invested in the project. Some will feel guilt, others rejection, and still others a deep-seated anger. No matter which of these feelings are felt, this person will stop taking chances, will stop going out on a limb, and will live their life as a series of safe moves.
On the opposite side of the perspective, those who view failure as a steppingstone, a lesson learned, or an opportunity will have more success than they can imagine. Understanding that there is truly no such thing as a failure, rather you were given the gift of understanding, wisdom, and battle scars and will catapult you forward. A value cannot be placed on these lessons, understanding what not to do, which choices not to make, and gaining the experience to have a clear understanding of consequences will make your future choices stronger. The leader who gets right back up, brushes themselves off, and asks, “what can I learn from this?” is the leader who leads with empathy and emotional intelligence. The leader who sets the company culture and creates an environment where educated guesses, well-researched attempts, and ventures are encouraged.
Understanding the wealth of knowledge failure holds will allow you to see the benefit of failing. How can we ever succeed if we have never fallen? The victories earned through hard work and scars are all the sweeter and appreciated. The next time you fail, change your perspective. Ask yourself what you learned and how this will positively impact your future.