How Does Failure Work For You?

“. . . the only thing we have to fear is fear itself . . . “

What if you could make a reasonable prediction about your life?

Would you want to know what it was?

When Anne was born in 1866 the world was a much different place than it is now. Women didn’t have the opportunities, nor the support, that Anne might have had today.

Her parents had moved to the US from Ireland during the Great Famine. But life in the US was not easy. The family lived in poverty and Anne developed an eye infection at the age of five that plagued her for the rest of her life, eventually blinding her.

Her mother died when she was 8. Her father was impatient and abusive. Eventually he abandoned Anne and her younger brother, Jimmie, and they went to live at a home for the poor. Jimmie died just months later, leaving Anne alone in the world at a dirty, rundown and overcrowded facility.

When members of a special commission were visiting the home, Anne worked up the nerve to ask if she could attend a special school for the blind.

Around 1879, at a time when children were “seen but not heard,” Anne stepped out of the shadows and asked for the privilege of attending school.

She had no family to encourage her. She had no siblings to care for. She was alone, in a dirty home at the age of 13.

She found her inspiration and desire to be more in life than what seemed to be planned. She struggled through surgeries to repair her sight, through an education for which she had no foundation and eventually graduated valedictorian of her class.

She told the students, “duty bids us go forth into active life. Let us go cheerfully, hopefully, and earnestly, and set ourselves to find our special part.”

When she arrived at the school she couldn’t read or write, had never owned a nightgown or a hair brush.  In other words, she was pretty backwards, even for 1879!

But that didn’t stop Anne. In her early years at school her memories were of others making fun of her and humiliating her.

But Anne pressed on.

Then, at the ripe old age of 21 Anne Sullivan met Helen Keller and the world was changed. Would you have predicted Anne’s fame and success based on her start in life?

How does failure look in your life?

In point of fact, failure is just another name for deferred success. Without failure we wouldn’t learn lessons – and lessons learned from failures are the best lessons. Unless we learn from failure, it’s a point of pain.

There is an incredible distinction between people who achieve great success in life and those who struggle, even when that successful person is struggling against overwhelming odds.

Women who are successful see failure as an opportunity.  That’s right . . . failure is an opportunity to learn from mistakes and do it right the next time.

Unfortunately, from the time we’ve been in preschool failure has meant a big fat red “F” on our report card. It has meant feeling defeated and unsuccessful. And those feelings have been ingrained over decades.

In school you either got it right the first time or got an “F” on your report card. In the business world there is an expression – “Fail fast and often” – which means it’s important to fail fast, learn from those mistakes, get up and do it again – BETTER.  But by the time we graduate from high school, we’ve learned that you get it right the first time or you have FAILED.

In other words, our school systems gradually teach all of us the undercurrent of fear of failure that runs through our lives.

Does this mean because fear has been ingrained for nearly 12 years we are hopeless?  Of course not! If you look around at people who have found success in relationships, business, finance and entrepreneurship, you’ll notice that at some point they “unlearned” this learned behavior.  To gain greater success in life, it’s time to see failure for what it really is.

Failing is nothing more than falling forward. If you fall and never get up again, ONLY THEN you have failed.
Presidential Failure

In 1932 Franklin D. Roosevelt campaigned against then President Herbert Hoover for the Presidency of the United States. He said as little as possible about what he would do if elected and allowed the downward spiraling economy speak for itself. On the heels of his election came the Great Depression. During his first inaugural speech, President Roosevelt said something that has been passed down and incorporated into other speeches, motivational works and conversations between parents and their children.

“. . . the only thing we have to fear is fear itself . . . “

But those are only a few words in the actual quote which reads:

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”

~President Franklin D. Roosevelt
March 4, 1933
In those final words of that sentence, “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance,”  Roosevelt speaks volumes about the kind of fear that we should be afraid of.

There are specific physical obstacles that should generate a fear response. Being attacked by a bear, falling off a cliff or facing a gunman all SHOULD evoke fear. But, what we more often face are fears that are not based in reality.

Fear is real. But, the thing you fear may not be. 

The feeling of fear is powerful, real and sometimes debilitating. But, the thing you fear may not exist. Left unchecked, fear can deflate your confidence and destroy your dreams.

Psychologically, there is an emotional toll when you try something new and it doesn’t work out. But that has more to do with our own personal fear than any measurable loss.  Something that doesn’t end up working out the way you planned is just a step in the process of success.  Innumerable successful people have that same understanding of fear.

The loss we experience when something is not a success is only measured in how much we learn.

But, if you fall, get up, brush yourself off and try again you have done nothing more than to learn from your mistakes.

If you are trying to ride a horse, you’ll likely fall off at some point. Falling off won’t discourage you from getting back on again. But you will learn from your mistake.

Several years ago I was in the middle of a riding lesson at a local stable. During one of the exercises in the rink, the girth on the saddle snapped (the leather that goes under the belly of the horse and holds the saddle to the horses back). We were cantering around the indoor ring and I was enjoying the ride – without stirrups.

Well, the saddle went one way and I went the other. Smack down on my back. Thankfully it was in a large pile of newly spread sawdust.  Although I had the breath knocked out of me, I got back up, re-saddled the horse with a different saddle and continued to ride.

BUT, I also learned to thoroughly inspect the equipment before using it.  I fell, but didn’t stop riding.

We all fall at some point – whether it’s in business, relationships, health or finances. The question isn’t WILL you fall – but what will you do AFTER you fall?

Will you get up, learn from the experience and do it better next time? Or will you stay down?

Life is all about falling forward, learning, getting up, changing and doing it again – BETTER.