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3 Mindsets to Turn Failures into Success

Success consists of getting up more than you fall.

5/20/2022 | Steve Woodburn, The Only Constant is Change

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”  Thomas Edison

My first big attempt at something major in life was an utter failure. I tried again and again, but kept failing only to get up, brush myself off and try again. At least that’s what I’m told because after all, I was pretty young. The great news is, I finally succeeded and starting walking like a pro. 

In virtually everything we do, we face failure, sometimes multiple times before we find our way. It’s said Thomas Edison tried 10,000 versions of the light bulb before he finally hit upon the right combination. Michael Jordon, arguably one of the greatest basketball players, was cut from his high school basketball team because they didn’t think he had the right stuff. And Steve Jobs? He built a successful company you might have heard of, but was fired from that same company in 1985. The company then floundered and just months away from bankruptcy, rehired Jobs who turned Apple around and into one of the most successful company in the world. 

Failing is not fun and for some, failure becomes their story. Take the artist who in 1890 committed suicide at age 37 because he didn’t believe his talent would ever amount to anything. Mental illness created havoc in his life, but he left behind many beautiful works of art that have since sold for tens of millions of dollars. His name: Vincent Van Gogh. 

The list of people who failed, sometimes multiple times and spectacularly, before their ultimate success goes on and on. Colonel Harland Sanders of KFC fame, Elvis Presley, Abraham Lincoln, J.K. Rowling who wrote the Harry Potter series, Oprah Winfrey, Mark Cuban from Shark Tank, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Walt Disney, Sidney Poitier and Soichiro Honda, the guy who failed many times before founding the Honda Motor Company.

What traits do these people have that kept them moving forward even after they poured their heart and soul into their dream and yet failed? These three traits seem to be part of the DNA of all those who face failure, but move beyond and ultimately succeed. 

Persistence: Ever heard the term overnight success? Chances are it took a decade or two of persistence for that overnight success to realize actual success after perhaps failing multiple times. Failure hurts. It hurts the head and the heart and our spirit, but we must not let it destroy us. It takes persistence to overcome failure and a belief that you will eventually triumph, no matter what. When you fail at something, and you will, take a short time to grieve.  Then pick yourself up, determine what happened and what you must do to continue on to not make that same mistake again. 

Elon Musk, one of the world’s richest men, failed time and again in his early years and even as recently as a few years ago, several of his Space X rockets blew up.  And his car company Tesla was on the brink of collapse. But through persistence and a belief in his dreams, Musk took those failures in stride, bounced back, kept plugging away and is now worth around $185 billion. Not bad for a guy that couldn’t even get a job in 1995 at a tech company called Netscape. Persistence pays off. 

Use the Knowledge You’ve Gained: The good thing about failure? You’ve learned what doesn’t work and now you can move on to try other ways to generate the success you seek. Every setback teaches you something, and the key is to use that newfound knowledge to seek new paths to find success. 

I spent 20 years working on-air in radio, a business where rejection and failure go hand-in-hand. At the first station where I worked, in a small California town, I was told I’d move a lot because radio personalities are a dime a dozen. At one time I had over 100 rejection letters from radio stations I applied to for work, but I didn’t let those failures stop me. I’d take whatever feedback I got, make some adjustments to the way I approached stations, and then try again. In the end, I was successful and left the business on my own terms when the time came.

Use failure to reflect on what you’ve learned and use that knowledge to find alternative paths to success. Realize that to succeed, you must be flexible and adaptable. If you’re not changing and keeping up with new technologies and information, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Always be learning and realize that failure isn’t the end of the world. As Robert Kennedy said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”

Foster a Positive Attitude: It’s easy to understand why failing also affects our attitude. Many let failure get the best of them, they give up and vow never to do anything that dumb again. On the other hand, having a positive attitude won’t stop you from failing, but it will make it much easier to pick yourself back up. Earl Nightingale, one of the most successful motivational speakers in history noted, “A great attitude is not the result of success; success is the result of a great attitude.” 

You’re not a failure if you fall down, you’re a failure if you stay down and don’t get up and try again. A positive attitude and outlook on life not only helps you recover more quickly from failure, it also helps attract the right people and opportunities into your life. Surround yourself with positive people, don’t dwell on the negatives in your life, and don’t ever let failure define who you are. With the right attitude, you’ll understand failure is a common trait for those who are successful and it’s all in how you use the feedback failure offers in moving forward.

Two world-renowned psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, studied failure and success. What they found is that failure effects people emotionally twice as much as does success, which is why humans are so averse to failing. Learning from our failures, using the knowledge we gain from them and keeping a positive mental attitude will help you move beyond the pain of failure.

We all fail at something in this life, some much more than others, but success means getting up one more time than you fail. Or, as basketball great Michael Jordon said, “I’ve failed over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.

Embrace failure, learn from it, get up and try again using the knowledge you’ve gained. That’s what will truly set you apart and set you up to be the overnight success we always hear about.

Steve Woodburn started hustling early in life, landing his first on-air radio gig when he was just 20 and spending the next 20 years as a DJ, news anchor, talk show host and traffic reporter. He found the promotional products business totally by accident (as do most) working 29 years on the distributor side and five as a supplier. Steve won multiple sales awards along the way and volunteered his time with his local association, the Regional Association Council (RAC) and served on the PPAI Board of Directors. He's currently the Chief Adventurer of Marvelous Moosey Adventures, a company he and his wife created, and pursues acting, writing and voice-over work. Connect with Steve on Linkedin or via email at successnow09@gmail.com
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