Failure Is Not Final

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
― Winston Churchill
Some time ago, I had the privilege and utter enjoyment to speak to some Middle School classes on the subject of failure. I told my story, and many of you know my story is riddled with drug and alcohol abuse. My life could have turned out a totally different way. In fact, I truly believe if I hadn’t recovered, I would not be alive right how. I had many illustrations of personal failure to share with them.When asked if they knew famous people (besides me! hahahaha) who had failed, some answers were Justin Bieber, a famous soccer player benched in a Championship because of a penalty, Kurt Cobain and Robin Williams (both who committed suicide.) I thought it interesting that they considered suicide a failure. Their reasoning behind this answer was because these people couldn’t make their lives work (my translation 🙂 )I shared my list of successful people who could have been perceived as failures:

Babe Ruth–714 home runs–struck out 1330 times
Walt Disney–he was fired from the newspaper where he worked because “he lacked imagination and didn’t have any good ideas.”
Albert Einstein–didn’t start to talk until he was four, couldn’t read until he was 7, and was labeled mentally handicapped.
JK Rowling, The Harry Potter creator– was broke, divorced, depressed and a single mom on welfare while writing her first book.
Michael Jordan (their favorite)–didn’t make the varsity basketball team in high school.  He was crushed because his best friend did make the team.

We decided together that failure was so painful for these reasons:

  • It makes us feel stupid, and a lesser person.
  • We keep it a secret, so it stays with us a long time.
  • We go over it in our mind forever “like a horse running around a corral.”
  • It’s disappointing when things don’t work out the way we think they should.
  • People laugh at us and that’s embarrassing.
  • Our parents lecture us.
  • It makes us want to quit.

Those very reasons cause us to fear failure sometimes to the point of not trying anything new.  My friend Les Brown says “Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.” We may be worried about what other people will say. And it’s true, we may well be laughed at or criticized by those who lack our courage. But those who never made a mistake or never failed never tried anything new. And there is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing. And it’s obvious where that will lead.

It doesn’t matter how long it takes us or how slowly we go, as long as we don’t give up. As long as we don’t stop.

We talked about the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, Louis Pasteur and the things we wouldn’t have in our lives had these men not persevered through failure.  If not for Bill Richards, we wouldn’t have the skateboard!

So how do we push through and overcome failure?

  • Own it. Talk to someone you trust about it. Don’t hide it.
  • Don’t compare ourselves to others. That can make us feel like failures. We are unique and special and are each called to our own way in life.
  • Evaluate it. What went wrong? Where did it go wrong? What could I have done differently?
  • Appreciate it? (WHAAAAAAATTT?) If we have the right attitude about it and value failure as an opportunity to learn, we will work harder for a better outcome.  We will then learn and grow from it.

Everyone fails at some time or something. The question is not will we fail or make mistakes, the question is how will we respond to them. The big plus of failure is that every time you fail and learn from it—it grows you up. It makes you better. You grow mentally. You get smarter. You feel better about yourself every time. Failing and making mistakes are not such a big deal. You try bigger things. It turns into an amazing transformative cycle where you begin to believe big about yourself.

The teacher shared that the students enjoyed this presentation and talked a lot about it.  I am hoping that they, and you, learn now what took me years to figure out.


Jan McDonald
Member of the John Maxwell Team and CEO of Life Options

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