Failing Forward: Turning Stumbling Blocks into Stepping Stones 715.1

The best way to teach our children to succeed is to teach them to fail.

After all, if getting everything you want on the first try is success, and everything else is failure, we all fail much more often than we succeed.

People who learn how to grow from unsuccessful efforts succeed more often and at higher levels because they become wiser and tougher.

Two great American inventors, Thomas Edison and Charles Kettering, mastered the art of building success on a foundation of failure.

Edison liked to say he “failed his way to success,” noting that every time he tried something that didn’t work he moved closer to what did. Kettering talked about “failing forward,”* calling every wrong attempt a “practice shot.”

Of course, failure is never desirable, but it can be useful, and it is inevitable.

The only way to avoid failure is to avoid the risks and challenges that help us get better as a people and professionals. The secret of success is learning to transform unsuccessful experiences from stumbling blocks to stepping stones.

Three qualities can turn adversity into advantage: a positive perspective, reflection, and perseverance.

First, learn from the inventors. Don’t allow yourself to think of any failure as final, and never allow unsuccessful efforts to discourage you or cause you to give up. Remember, failure is an event, not a person. Even failing repeatedly can’t defeat you unless you start thinking of yourself as a failure. The way you think about your experiences shapes the experience in ways that either stimulate or stymie further efforts.

Second, don’t waste the experience. Unsuccessful efforts are failures only if you don’t learn from them. Reflect on your actions, attitudes, and the results to discover the lesson within, and use that knowledge to guide future efforts.

Finally, persevere. Try and try again. Just be smarter each time.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

* Leadership guru John Maxwell has used this phrase for a title of a book, Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success.

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Comments 4

  1. Perseverance is also a Godly character trait (Rom 5:3-4) … The Apostle Paul instructed is student Timothy in things from which he should flee, then said that as a man of God, he should pursue perseverance (1 Tim 6:11). … and to his pupil Titus: Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ(Titus 3:14). … thank you Michael Josephson, for pointing us toward Godly character.

  2. If you have the three qualities to turn adversity into advantage – a positive perspective, reflection, and perseverance – your learning opportunities will primarily be external to your character. Without these qualities, we should be careful not to point to external “excuses” for failure before recognizing internal shortcomings. For example, if failure is a result of lack of effort, patting yourself (or someone else) on the back, may reinforce a weak character trait.

  3. The fear of failure can stifle even the best. Joni Mitchell addressed this in “I Think I Understand” when she wrote/sang: “Fear is like a wilderland, stepping stones or sinking sand.” Thanks for helping us look for and see the stepping stones along the way.

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