“Part of being a winner is knowing when enough is enough. Sometimes you have to give up the fight and walk away, and move on to something that’s more productive.” — Donald Trump
Should you give up when you fail at something? Maybe! That is really the truthful answer.
There are many types of failure in many aspects of our lives. We may fail at relationships, academic pursuits, or in our careers and business endeavors. I could speak to each of those areas but let me generalize a few insights that will help you learn to recognize and learn from failure.
Darius Foroux wrote this profound observation about failure and giving up.
Most of us believe that it’s wrong to quit. That it’s for losers. And that quitting equals failure.
The ‘never quit’ attitude is a good thing. Especially when we pursue hard things. I don’t think you should ever quit just because you can’t handle something.
However, quitting is also a smart strategy. Sometimes quitting is even the better option.
Seth Godin wrote a book about quitting. It’s called The Dip. And it’s very good. He says:
“Persistent people are able to visualize the idea of light at the end of the tunnel when others can’t see it. At the same time, the smartest people are realistic about not imagining light when there isn’t any.”
Sometimes you’re in a tunnel where there is no light to be found at all. So no matter how hard you work and persistent you are, you will never achieve anything.
Dead end jobs, businesses, projects, relationships, behavior. We’ve all been there.
If failure is such a great teacher why aren’t we learning?
- That are self-evident
- That are unknown
- That you mislabel
- You recognize but do not take action upon
I have had rich life experiences and I have failed for all of these reasons. In retrospect, if I could fully comprehend and calculate the full measure of my failures back then, maybe I could have recognized the path forward and changed a few outcomes?
Having the wrong attitude, the wrong knowledge, and a lack of skills are self-evident attributes that are contributing factors to most failure. Lacking one of these attributes is somewhat self-evident why you failed. You didn’t study of the test, you didn’t prepare for the meeting, and you said the wrong thing. All failures that you created if you are brave enough to acknowledge them.
Unknown reasons for failure
Failures that you don’t act upon
If a failure is going to help you become more, become better, or become successful you need to not only recognize that you failed, but I need that experience to inform your strategy or system for becoming better.
What should you learn from your failures?
In the early 1800’s Audubon was involved in several trading and manufacturing business that all failed. Some of these were simply bad timing. For example he started a trading business with England right before the war of 1812. That of course devastated his prospects. What Audubon was good at was hunting and drawing. In fact he used his artistry as a meager part of his income for most of his adult life before he became published.
In contrast let’s take a look at Richard Branson. Branson is a billionaire, an entrepreneurs and viewed as an overall model for success. But his track record shows that he fails perhaps as much as he succeeds. Most of his Virgin product lines have failed while other have succeeded. Branson, I submit, knew when to quit and when to stick with the right investment or business. His failures didn’t inform him to change careers, rather they confirmed his overall direction. He pushed forward and in most respects he is successful.
If your goal is to become a successful entrepreneur and the failures of companies on long the way fits within your system as you keep learning and perfecting your skills than you are well aligned with Branson and everything might work out for you.
If you were not well suited for business and you’re more like an Audubon, then failure should inform you that you need to change your course and do what you’re good at, which is what Audubon did and then he became a success.
In her article “Strategies for Learning from Failure” Amy C. Edmondson said “Once a failure has been detected, it’s essential to go beyond the obvious and superficial reasons for it to understand the root causes. This requires the discipline—better yet, the enthusiasm—to use sophisticated analysis to ensure that the right lessons are learned and the right remedies are employed.”
One of the keys to know if you are on the right track or if your plan is wrong is by taking this simple litmus test when failure occurs. Is your failure today the result of a long string of bad decisions or is the failure of today isolated to the events of the day? I think success comes to those who can interpret, categorize and segregate failures so that they don’t cripple their dreams.
No matter the type of failure, try not to fail, but if you must fail, fail the best way you can. Don’t try to avoid all risk, but set yourself up so that you can pivot from your mistakes. If failure paralyzes your momentum you need to recognize what failure is trying to teach you and then move in a purposeful direction.
The real trick is to be able to learn and learn rapidly form your failures. If you have created a system for success (whatever that might mean to you) it is much easier to learn and pivot from a failure.
If you don’t have a system that helps you react and process a failure events you can get stuck, and in doing so, you don’t move toward anything productive. You simply let the dark tar of failure simmer in your soul.
If failure is inevitable then success is contingent upon your perceptions, actions and recovery from a failure. From that informed point of view you can rationally build a learning strategy to change your attitude, update your skills or knowledge.
Learn more: Read my new book The Value of Failure.
Shane Lester is the Author of the new book: The Value of Failure
“This book will change everything you thought you knew about failure.”