With all due respect to Gene Kranz's fine book about NASA (titled Failure is Not an Option), and the fact that in some cases it’s truly not, most of the time lack of success is bearable and should be considered a learning opportunity.
Sadly, people who “fail” are often castigated as losers who are to be shunned. What a tragic loss. What an initiative-killing, demoralizing choice.
Most mistakes, oversights, or coming up short on goals are not as serious as an oxygen tank exploding on a spacecraft. The majority of failures simply take us to a fork in the road, where we can either assign labels and blame or we can choose to learn.
Several lessons from history come to mind.
One is the oft-told story about inventor Thomas Edison. When asked about why he was failing in his efforts to create a light bulb, he gave his now famous reply, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”
Then there’s Eddie Rickenbacker, who worked as a mechanic and laborer before becoming a flying ace in World War I. After surviving the war, he started the Rickenbacker Motor Company to produce automobiles, but the venture flopped. Later he tried to start Florida Airways, but that flopped, too. Then, in 1938 Rickenbacker took the helm at Eastern Airlines, and turned it into the most successful airline of its day.
What if Rickenbacker had given up after his motor company failed?
Many have heard the story of Abraham Lincoln: Born to illiterate parents, Lincoln’s first fiancé turned him down because she thought he would never amount to anything. After he did marry, three of his four children died before reaching adulthood. His business ventures failed, and he lost three out of four races for elected office before being asked to run for the presidency on a the ticket of a newly established party.
In each of these examples, these people experienced tremendous failure. But instead of choosing to be victims, they chose to move forward. Let me emphasize: It’s a choice.
Choosing victim status is the easy way out. No need to take responsibility … No learning … Just a “poor me” approach that puts a drain on the workplace rather than contributing to it.
But choosing to move ahead and learn from failure is commendable, productive, and, on a personal level, quite fulfilling. It’s not easy, but the return is much greater than the investment.
Interestingly, the path to such fulfillment is simply a matter of choice. The “self-talk” is different. The focus is forward, not backward.
Abraham Lincoln is quoted as having said, “I have simply tried to do what seemed best each day, as each day came.”
Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi once said “the real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That’s real glory. That’s the essence of it.”
Again, don’t misunderstand; nobody says this is easy. Getting past failure includes facing fears, something Eddie Rickenbacker was well aware of. He said, “courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.”
How do you respond when you encounter failure in the workplace? Do you throw a pity party? Do you blame others? Do you discredit and shun those involved in the breakdown? Or do you focus on growth and improvement, seeking what can be learned, and moving forward?
Those who choose to focus on moving ahead are those who move ahead in life. Those who choose to focus on the negative are creating victim mentalities. Realizing that “stuff happens” and failures inevitably occur, which focus do you want to have?