Failure. It has one of the worst connotations in the English language. The word itself carries all the weight and emotion that accompanies a failure. Everyone hates to fail, and yet it is an inescapable fact of life—that no matter how hard you try at one point in your life you will fail. However, I firmly believe that the benefits of failure supersede any negative sides.
Failure comes in varying degrees every day. For example, I love to play the piano. I am not, nor will I ever be, a concert pianist, but I have played since I was a kid. I enjoy the challenge of learning and mastering a new piece of music. However, I am not blessed with the gift of sight-reading. I have to work and practice for hours in order to perfect a piece. In these hours, I fail a lot. I play the wrong rhythm, the wrong notes, or I play fortissimo instead of pianissimo. The result is a clunky, robotic interpretation of a beautiful song. Frankly, it sounds horrible. And not just during the first read through. It will sound bad for a long time. However, just because I repeatedly play it wrong does not mean I give up on it. Rather I hunker down to learn the correct fingerings and emotion of the piece. It takes time and patience, but it is all part of the process. I have to be willing to get it wrong (a lot) before I learn to get it right.
Some of the biggest, most well-known success stories actually started as failures. This list includes people like Abraham Lincoln, Walt Disney, Milton S. Hershey, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, J.K. Rowling, Michael Jordan, Colonel Sanders, and many others. Most of these people didn’t just fail once—rather they failed again and again over the span of years. For example, look at Hershey. He had multiple candy businesses fail before he started the Lancaster Caramel Company. Likewise, Colonel Sanders had many businesses fail before he franchised his fried chicken recipe. Even then, it is rumored he was turned down over 1,000 times. Or take a look at Rowling who had Harry Potter rejected by a dozen publishers. (Keep in mind that she has since sold more than 500 million Harry Potter books.) Each of these now famous people were, at one point, at the very bottom but they didn’t let that stop them. Rather they learned from their failures and became even better.
That is the biggest benefit of failure—that it pushes us to be better and to try harder. Failure is far from fun. It is frustrating and discouraging. Do I wish that I could sight-read a piece perfectly? Absolutely. Did Hershey, Sanders, Rowling, Jordan, or a million others wish that they succeeded on the first try? I’m sure they did. But failure has a way of showing us what is truly important and helping us refocus on our goal. For me, my goal is to perfect my current music by learning the correct fingering patterns, rhythms, and dynamics. Likewise, in the business world it might be a failed product or feature that helps you refocus on what’s actually important to the target audience so you know what to enhance or eliminate.
Failure is part of every aspect of our lives. However, with the right outlook, some perseverance, and old-fashioned grit, its benefits can far outweigh its drawbacks.