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The Five Lessons of Failure 

By Dr. Alan Zimmerman


"Obstacles can't stop you. Problems can't stop you. Most of all, other people can't stop you. Only you can stop you."
Jeffrey Gitomer, author and sales trainer.

Nothing in this world is more unpopular than failure. Personal failure, relationship failure, business failure, or any other kind of failure. People hate failure. Unfortunately, you and I are going to have some failures in life. They're inevitable.

The good news is ... failure can be good for us. As author and psychologist Dr. Bev Smallwood puts it, "Wrapped in unattractive, unlikely packaging are beautiful gifts. Failures contain gems of understanding and seeds of growth if you will look for them and receive them. Learning to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and begin again more wisely is priceless."

I think she's right. In fact, I've found five lessons in failure that help me get through the failure and get on to the next level of success.

1. Having a failure does not make you a failure.
Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita knew that. They had both failed in some way before they became business partners. Ibuka failed his exam for lifetime employment at Toshiba. Morita made an automatic rice cooker that burned the rice; so he only sold a hundred of them. But then they teamed up to build an inexpensive tape recorder, which they sold to Japanese schools. It was the beginning of the Sony Corporation.

Having a failure does not make you a failure UNLESS you start to think of yourself that way. If you start to think you're a messed-up, screwed-up failure, that's where you'll stay. As martial artist, actor and author Bruce Lee noted, "Defeat is a state of mind. No one is ever defeated until defeat has been accepted as reality."

Cynthia Kersey re-affirmed that when she wrote "Unstoppable Women." She said, "Believe in yourself and there will come a day when others will have no choice but to believe with you."

2. Failure is simply proof you're a part of the human race.
It's not a disgrace. After all, every human being has some failures. So don't get too bent out of shape when you experience some of them.

You don't have to be perfect. In fact, you never will be. But that's okay.

Rick Warren, the author of "The Purpose-Driven Life," commented on that when he interviewed Barack Obama and John McCain before the 2008 presidential election. Warren said, "You don't have to be perfect to be used by God. You just have to be available."

3. Failure can be temporary.
It's a turn in the road, not the end of the road. It's a chapter in your life, not your entire life ... UNLESS you give up and quit.

Bruce Lee went on to say, "To me, defeat in anything is merely temporary, and its punishment is but an urge for me to greater effort to achieve my goal. Defeat simply tells me that something is wrong in my doing; it is a path leading to success and truth."

He's right. If you take that approach to your failures, your failures will only be temporary.

Philip Knight took that approach. He tried to build a shoe company but ran into problems when his manufacturer wanted the majority ownership of his company. Knight refused. That left him without a product to sell. Once he got going again, a dock workers' strike and fluctuations in the Japanese currency almost put him out of business. But knowing that failures CAN be temporary, he marched on. Knight and his company survived. Today it is known around the world as Nike.

Personally, I recommend Maya Angelou's attitude. Adopt it as your own. As she wrote in one of her great poems, "I've learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow."

4. The risk of failure PRECEEDS all worthwhile achievements.
If you take a risk trying to do something worthwhile, and if you fail in the process of trying, you're not a disgrace. You're an inspiration. In fact, there's nothing more inspiring than the failure of a person you admire.

But it's good to remember that the failure didn't make them great; it was their ability to overcome it that made them great. Henry Ford taught us that. His first business, called the Detroit Automobile Company, failed within two years due to partnership disputes. His second automobile company also failed. It was only on his third try that he succeeded with the Ford Motor Company.

Do not live your life like so many people do, living your life on the sidelines, refusing to take any risks, and then regretting what you should have done but never did.

5. Failure is only a step on your journey to success.
IF you learn from your failure. IF you learn where the pitfalls are. IF you learn how to avoid them. IF you learn how to do things better the next time around. IF you learn how to squeeze all the learnings out of your failures, they're really a blessing in disguise.

That's what Rick Rosenfeld and Larry Flax did. They wrote a screenplay they couldn't sell, started an Italian restaurant that went bankrupt, and launched a mobile skateboard park that didn't make it. It wasn't until they analyzed all their failures, picked out the learnings, and started to sell gourmet pizzas that success came their way. They called their business the California Pizza Kitchen.

When you get right down to the bottom line, failure is either a blessing or a curse. It all depends on how you respond to it. Make it a blessing by applying these five lessons.

Action:
Select three failures you've experienced in the last year. And then deduce three things you learned (or need to learn) from those failures.


As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Dr. Alan Zimmerman has taught more than one million people in 48 states and 22 countries how to keep a positive attitude on and off the job. In his book, PIVOT: How One Turn In Attitude Can Lead To Success, Dr. Zimmerman outlines the exact steps you must take to get the results you want in any situation. Go to Alan's site for a Free Sneak Preview.


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