How Failure Can Set You Up For Success

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.” ― Neil Gaiman

Every one of us has experienced failure at some point in our lives - many, many times if we’re honest with ourselves. We all know how it feels to be rejected, whether in terms of love, work, life in general - if none of this applies to you, to gender-neutralize Kipling, “You're a better human than I am, Gunga Din”!

To broaden the relevance, we may consider ourselves to have failed in terms of relationships, of any kind; or anything from falling short on an exam, to not getting your dream job, to the liquidation of that business you’d worked so hard to establish…

But real failure only happens if we give up. An oft-cited case in point is best-selling author J.K. Rowling, whose Harry Potter manuscript was rejected no less than 12 times before being bought by Bloomsbury. As she has said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”  

Here are just a few other inspirational success stories that may never have happened if giving up had been an option:

Albert Einstein
The legendary Nobel Prize-winning physicist suffered many setbacks before achieving the highest recognition afforded by the science community. He failed his first entrance exam before going on to gain his degree but even then it took years of struggle before he was able to earn a living in academia. He is quoted as declaring, “Failure is success in progress.”  

Walt Disney
The man famous for his enduring legacy of award-winning animated films and amusement parks overcame multiple early failures and setbacks including bankruptcy, a mental breakdown, and a devastating strike. He credited failure with giving him the fearlessness necessary to keep going: “I think it’s important to have a good hard failure when you’re young… Because it makes you kind of aware of what can happen to you. Because of it, I’ve never had any fear in my whole life when we’ve been near collapse and all of that. I’ve never been afraid.”

Sir James Dyson
Before going on to found a multi-billion dollar empire, Dyson had more than FIVE THOUSAND failed prototypes of his game-changing bagless vacuum cleaner over the course of 15 years. His advice? “We’re taught to do things the right way. But if you want to discover something that other people haven’t, you need to do things the wrong way. Initiate a failure by doing something that’s very silly, unthinkable, naughty, dangerous. Watching why that fails can take you on a completely different path.”

Oprah Winfrey
The billionaire talk-show host and television producer was fired from her first job as a TV anchor before overcoming adversity to ultimately host her own global show and establish a sprawling media empire. She says, “Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire. This is your moment. Own it.”

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” ― Thomas A. Edison