Failure: The Doorway to Success

A snow ski instructor once said, “If you’re not falling you’re not learning!” As humans we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. In fact it’s usually by experiencing several failures that we eventually succeed. It took me several falls before I learned as a child to ride a bike and as a young adult to ski.

Failure’s Lessons

Of course being successful depends on our willingness to learn from our mistakes and failures. What did I do that was wrong? How can I correct that next time? Usually, it takes several failed attempts before we actually learn to do better. But that all depends upon whether we are humble enough to learn from our failures.

However, if we are willing, failure can teach us some important lessons:

1.        Reality  

There’s nothing like experiencing failure to give us a big reality check! Sometimes we can take a more exalted view of our capacities than warranted. Our mistakes and failures help us get our feet on the ground, to get realistic and begin to discover what we need to do differently in order to succeed.

2.        Humility

Our experiences of failure should teach us to be humble. Humility is the attitude of not thinking of ourselves as being more capable or more important than we really are. Rather, it’s about making a sober and realistic assessment of ourselves. Authentic   humility doesn’t mean putting ourselves down or refusing to accept our achievements. It’s about being realistically confident about our strengths and capacities, but not over confident. It also means recognising we don’t have all the answers but rather need to respect the abilities, wisdom, insights and perspectives of others if we want to succeed.

3.        Perseverance  

Invariably, genuine success doesn’t come easily. It usually takes plenty of perseverance. It’s through perseverance that we learn the reason our present    behaviours don’t achieve the outcomes we want and what changes are needed.         

4.        Patience  

Perseverance depends on patience. Patience is the commitment to keep on trying despite our failures. It’s also humbly being willing to learn from our mistakes and recognising there are times when we need the support of others.  

5.        Empathy

Empathy is a function of social awareness. It’s the capacity to tune into the emotions of another person and see their situation through their eyes. As a result of our own experiences of failure and the emotions flowing from them we are better able to appreciate how others feel when they experience disappointment, loss and failure. For leaders, such empathy is a great resource for building trust with our teams.

6.        Trust  

Mostly we succeed by learning to trust and follow an authority or ‘higher power’ such as a mentor, coach, parent or teacher. A key part of the recovery process in Alcoholics Anonymous is encouraging members to rely on the support of the ‘higher power’ of a mentor and the spiritual support of the ‘higher power’ of God as they best understand the divine. ‘Hamartia’, the main Greek word in the New Testament section of the Bible to translate ‘sin’, literally means ‘missing the mark or target’. While specifically referring to moral, ethical and spiritual failure the word could be applied to any area of life or work where a person might fall short. One of the key lessons of failure is to remind us that we are not infallible and to learn to trust and learn from those who are further down the road than we are.


‘Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.’

This well-known Peace Prayer attributed to St Francis reminds us that we often need sufficient humility to seek help from a ‘higher power’ to be able to contribute towards making life better for ourselves and others. Our mistakes and failures are stark reminders that we are limited human beings and need the support of others to achieve the things that really matter.

written by Graham Beattie

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1 thought on “Failure: The Doorway to Success

  1. Thanks Graham for another great article and a topic I have experienced a few times.
    I was speaking with someone this morning and talking about being empathetic as well as sympathetic and the experiences we go through to teach us understand what other people are or may be experiencing.
    God is a great teacher and reminder when we are speaking with people.
    Regards Meg

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