Sometimes we hear the word “failure” and conjure up the most insulting thoughts. Too often we immediately think of a loser who can’t figure out what he or she is doing. Someone who can’t get their act together. A person who by society’s standards fails to meet the minimum requirements placed on them.
A distinction needs to be made between a person who is a “failure” and a person who FAILS. Without failure, there is no success. Without failure progress is impossible. The only way we can achieve greatness is to push the limits of what we can do. As people, we’re programmed to take chances and strive to accomplish more than we think possible.
Setbacks are a natural part of progress. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying. When I was a kid our family used to go skiing on the weekends. When I would meet my friends at school they would proudly proclaim “I didn’t fall once on Saturday!” There is no worse logic than this. FALL. Fall often. Then get up and try again. Then fall again.
To me, there’s a certain romance to failure. I want to make failure a lifelong habit, because without failure there is no growth and without growth any success you might have is short-lived, and certainly not so sweet as the triumphs gained by those who have struggled to achieve.
For your reading pleasure: the 5 most inspirational failures.
1. Albert Einstein – did not speak until he was 4-years-old and did not read until he was 7. His parents thought he was “sub-normal,” and one of his teachers described him as “mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift forever in foolish dreams.” He was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School.
2. Winston Churchill – failed sixth grade. He was subsequently defeated in every election for public office until he became Prime Minister at the age of 62. He later wrote, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never, Never, Never, Never give up.”
3. Michael Jordan – cut from his high school basketball team. Jordan once observed, “I’ve failed over and over again in my life. That is why I succeed.”
4. Abraham Lincoln – went to war a captain and returned a private. Afterwards, he was a failure as a businessman. He turned to politics and was defeated in his first try for the legislature, defeated in his first attempt to be nominated for congress, defeated in his application to be commissioner of the General Land Office, defeated in the senatorial election of 1854, defeated in his efforts for the vice-presidency in 1856, and defeated in the senatorial election of 1858. Lincoln wrote in a letter to a friend, “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth.”
5. Thomas Edison – teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything.” He was fired from his first two jobs for being “non-productive.” As an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. A reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison: “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
If you don’t fail at least 90 percent of the time, you’re not aiming high enough.
Alan Kay, the scientist who conceived the idea of laptop computer and graphical user interface currently used in computers today.