“Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure — or you can learn from it. So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because, remember that’s where you will find success.”
— Tom Watson, founder of IBM
It’s cliche’ to say that “failure” is the key to digging deep and developing your success muscles. Of course failure is key to success. And people love to talk about that fact.
But how many people have REALLY failed?
How many people put themselves in a position to really fail?
We talk about “failure” like posting 50 blog posts that don’t get read or pitching your business idea to 100 people to no avail.
Yes, those types of failures are completely essential. And few people will even “fail” in those small and simple ways.
But what about losing all of your money?
What about finding yourself in position where you MUST figure something out, or else… you don’t know what will happen? And you don’t want to know.
The Moments That Wake You Up
If you haven’t had one of those moments that wake you up, you don’t know what true failure feels like.
I’m talking about one of those moments where you’re left with a choice. You can either give up or you MUST rise up.
Where your behavior literally must change or else everything will crash down bad. And not just your business. But your marriage and everything else.
You need to have one of those moments where you stop justifying time-wasters. Where you stop justifying playing small. Where you stop justifying spending time with the wrong people. Where you stop doing business with the wrong people. Where you stop being immature with your money and your relationships.
Where you get really serious about what you’re doing. And where you become hyper-committed to succeeding. Where you stop avoiding the mundane stuff you need to do.
You need to feel the searing pain that will shake your system and your core. Where you have to change because you never, ever, want to feel this again. When you reach this point, you really stop caring about your external image. As Rhett Butler says in Gone With the Wind,
“Until you’ve lost your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was or what freedom really is.”
The problem with becoming successful is that you begin to believe your press. And everything becomes plastic. It’s all about the image, the testimonials, the “brand,” the accolades, and what other people think.
Then you stop being willing to fail. Because if you try something new and fail, you could lose everything you’ve gained. Most importantly, you could lose your reputation. And then what would you be?
Then how would people feel about you?
Then what would all the cool people you want to impress think of you?
If you’re not willing to lose all the ground you’ve gained, you’ve lost the spirit that drove you on in the first place. You’ve over-attached yourself with the image that has become your reality.
Research has clearly shown that the avoidance of failure undermines intrinsic motivation. Put bluntly, if you’re trying to avoid failure, you’re focused on the wrong things. And you can’t win long-term in life this way. Eventually, all of your relationships will run out. You can’t sustain the show for long. Your work will start being work, because it will solely be to maintain the “show.” When you stop winning — which eventually you will — all of your relationships will abandon you. Because they weren’t really there for you anyways. Everything in your life was a mirage.
Hence, the need to be extremely honest with yourself. Yes, failure is scary. But if you really want to grow in anything — whether that’s a skill-set, a relationship, a business — you need to be true to yourself. It needs to be intrinsic. If it’s purely extrinsic — then it’s shallow, and those around you will only care about what’s external. They won’t really care about you.
You don’t want friends like that. You don’t want a life like that.
“Become a millionaire not for the million dollars, but for what it will make of you to achieve it.’”
— Jim Rohn
How do you really evolve as a person?
In her research on children, Carol Dweck found that children who framed their goals as “Learning Goals” were more focused on mastery and proactively sought-out challenges. These kids responded very well to failure. Their goals were intrinsically based. They weren’t obsessed with externals.
Kids who framed their goals as “Achievement Goals” avoided challenged and developed learned helplessness. They also avoided risks that seemed out of reach to them.
Seeking specific outcomes isn’t bad practice. However, it is when THAT becomes the end, rather than the growth you experience along the way and beyond.
If you ever get to the point where the achievement becomes the end, you’ve officially lost touch with yourself and your WHY. In such a case, you are no longer interested in authentic growth and living in alignment with your values and purpose. Instead, you begin seeking WHAT-ever will make you successful. Whatever will maintain the faulty self-image you feel the need to portray to others.
True Friends Help You Learn Hard Lessons
“Some mentors are more challenging than others.”
— Bonnie Hammer
Bad parenting is coddling your kids and stopping them from experiencing true consequences of their actions.
If you never let your kid touch the stove, they have a really hard time learning. Of course, good parenting also includes teaching true principles such that a child doesn’t have to learn all hard lessons through their own experience.
Even still, complete protection from natural consequences is horrible parenting.
Similarly, good mentoring involves creating scenarios where the learner can grow and MUST grow. Said Historian William Durant,
“I think the ability of the average man could be doubled if it were demanded, if the situation demanded.”
True mentorship is about creating challenging scenarios that the trainee could not create on their own. About stepping just out of range so they can actually struggle, fail, and experience consequences.
Either they rise up to the challenge or fail — in which case the mentor steps in and gives guidance. All the while, they work synergistically together. Because long-term failure isn’t the goal. Growth is the goal. And long-term success is the goal, which can’t happen at the avoidance of failure and learning — where both parties take 100% responsibility for the results.
Never Lose The “Underdog Effect” (most people do at some point)
The beauty of continually taking on bigger and bigger challenges is that it keeps you humble. No matter how successful you become, it’s healthy to experience failure and defeat from time-to-time.
It’s good to never plateau; but to continue learning and trying new things and expanding yourself and re-inventing.
This keeps you continually in the underdog position — where you aren’t trying to merely maintain the winner’s position. But where you have a chip on your shoulder, and feel the need to continually show up and prove others wrong.
The most potent combination is to have deep internal security, while at the same time maintaining a sense of inferiority. In the fantastic book, The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America, economists Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld explain that two of the three needed traits for outlier-like economic success are to: 1) have a deep belief in self, while at the same time, 2) feeling inferior. It’s a paradox. Yet, it’s why disadvantaged groups actually have an advantage. They feel special but also feel they must continually prove themselves. They prove themselves both as part of their value system and to prove others wrong. They let the haters be their motivators.
Have you failed enough to light a fire deep within you? Or, have you avoided the failure that would turn you into a warrior?
Is your motivation intrinsic or extrinsic? Get real. Be honest with yourself. If it’s achievement-based, you’re avoiding mastery. You’re overly fixated on your reputation.
Put everything on the line. Fail enough to lose your reputation — and rise up and prove who you really are.
Surround yourself with people who care enough about you to help you embrace learning, failure, and growth — and SUCCESS.