The Secret of Success is Failing, Often

Failure is the path to learning and we underestimate it too often.

Author: Ben Jackson   |  Tags:

We experience problems, setbacks, challenges and obstacles on a very regular basis. Yet why do we find ourselves so under skilled to handle them?

We experience problems, setbacks, challenges and failing on a very regular basis. Yet why do we find ourselves so under skilled to handle them?

As I meet more people and get involved in more conversations about this, it feels that we are really living in a system – seeded in education – that doesn’t allow failing, doesn’t allow us to make mistakes.

What if we classed failing as the only thing we should aim to do? Allow success to be the bonus or offshoot of failure. What if we reframe failure as our goal? Meet it face to face in an optimistic, positive way.

There Are No Resits in the Real World

For those of you who went to university, my experience has been that university limits failure to happen. There are options: you can change your module; change this; you can do that; you have a first, 1:2, 2:2. Supported throughout the whole journey buffered from failure. To be clear, I’m not criticising learning at all, or universities per se, but more what the structure that has nurtured.

Wiped Clean

I’d like to share a conversation I had recently with a midwife. She talked about a mum who had OCD: she was intensely focused on germs, cleanliness and hygiene.

Consequently, the midwife explained, in addition to the normal infection control procedures the mum asked any midwives wash and sterilise before and immediately after carrying out any observations or examinations.

As part of her birth plan she’d made it explicit that the baby was to be wiped down before being handed to her. But not just wiped down, but cleaned so that the baby was free from any germs.

This story reflects the point I’m trying to make. 

Growing Immunity

Why do we need germs or dirt? What ultimately is in a vaccine? They teach us to create antibodies. Which in turn creates immunity from infection, disease and so on. Whilst there are arguments back and forth regarding vaccinations, the process of generating necessary antibodies holds true.

We cannot wipe clean failure. We have to embrace it. Germs exist to create our immunisation. We need exposure to these things to actually be safe to handle infections, to handle colds. We have to build up our resilience to the colds and to the illnesses through exposure.

Look at what vaccines are made of typically. They are the original cultures of the cold or the illness that we’re trying to prevent. A body has to learn through being exposed to it to then overcome it. 

Time to Fail

To run from failure is as if we are immunising ourselves from success. To reverse this we need to expose ourselves to failure. We need to expose ourselves to the dirt and the muck and allow ourselves to evolve and grow. To rise again and come back stronger. 

This is what we have to do. We need to learn and stop insulating ourselves from failure. Believing success is inevitable sets us up for disappointment, sets us up for questioning our self-worth, our confidence and our self-esteem.

I suspect your initial reaction to the midwife’s story was surprise if not shock. “Why would you want to do that? Why would you want to clean your baby? You need that contact, the baby needs all those things, the germs, to develop and grow”. 

Act Now

Over the course of the next few days I would like you to think of this story. Recognise that this is evolution. This is your body telling you the only way I’m going to learn is by experiencing it and I’ll improve.

Therefore bear that in mind when you’re facing a challenge or concern about failure or feeling that you’ve failed, consider that it’s not only a lesson but a vital part of your own growth.

Therefore I want you to fail more often than you probably are, but fail forward.

Let me know what you think down in the comments; I love to hear from you.


About the Author

As well as a personal coach, Ben Jackson is the owner of The Parent and Pupil Coach delivering behavioural change programmes for 10–16 year olds. He coaches for leadership and transition for career parents and is regularly contributing to webinars and articles. You can connect with him on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and LinkedIn.

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