Each of us has experienced failure—after all, that’s part of life. As young children we learned to walk holding on to parents or furniture but we often fell down, only to get up and try again and again. We didn’t get discouraged, so we kept trying until we were successful. Why should it be any different with other things which confront us as adults?
Each failure is a valuable investment in our ultimate success. We shouldn’t squander this investment by beating ourselves up over it. Instead, we need to let our biggest failures set the stage for our biggest successes. We should let our worst mistakes position us to reach our greatest achievements.
When we learn through actual experience what doesn't work, we're making ourselves an expert at what will work. We need to treasure the real-world expertise that comes from the setbacks and errors, and build on it.
Thomas A Edison, one of the world’s greatest inventors, failed to find an effective filament for his light bulb but he later remarked “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Edison looked objectively at what went wrong those 99,999 attempts, went back to work, and found a new combination to make it work.
We shouldn’t get discouraged and become deterred from what we desire to achieve. We need to transform the energy of past disappointments into forward-looking determination.
After a massive fire in December 1914 destroyed much of his West Orange, NJ complex, Edison’s family and friends were worried about his mental and physical health. Edison, 67 at the time, could have become distraught and depressed over losing more than half of his complex. Instead, he put on a big smile and told his son and wife to enjoy the spectacle.
It was later determined that Edison lost $919,788 (about $23 million in today's dollars) from the fire. In addition, the fire had consumed years of priceless records and prototypes, and his plant's insurance covered only about a third of the total damage. Edison’s reply to his son, Charles, “It’s all right…All our mistakes are burned up… We’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish… I’ll start all over tomorrow…Thanks God we can start anew.”
Although there was but one Thomas Edison, we can learn a great deal from his experience. Whether we get the desired result or not, we should give ourselves credit for making the effort. Then take what we have learned and make another effort.
Bottom line, we need to keep going, keep learning, keep gathering experience through the ups and the downs. Decide that whatever happens will provide a continued path forward, and it will. It's fine to initially respond to loss or failure with sadness or anger, but only if it's fleeting. When failure happens, we must accept that it has happened and that we cannot change the past; however, finding the opportunity to overcome a challenge ultimately makes you stronger. We should never be deterred from our vision.