Failure. This is a topic that I’ve wanted to talk about for quite some time. Failure in business. Failure in relationships. Failure in personal goals. It just seems like nobody likes to talk about failure, it’s like an off-limits topic. We know we all face it every day, yet we avoid talking about it at all costs. It’s just not your typical water cooler conversation.
What if I told you that failure is actually a good thing! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve failed. In fact, I think I have small failures every week! I too used to fear failure more than anything else in my life. For a guy that grew up moving from place to place, in different cities and different countries, always facing new situations, new relationships, new environments, this may sound a little surprising. But one day, I realized that failure is just part of life. I changed the way I felt about failure so much that I actually started to embrace failure. I didn’t want this ghost called “failure” to hold me down anymore. I didn’t want the possibility of failure to prevent me from trying new things all the time.
Failure is like an invisible chain that limits our range of motion and the more you think about it, the tighter that chain pulls you back. But once we let go of that chain, once we challenge ourselves to “deal” with failure and consider it as just one more adjustment that we will need to make in order to move on with our lives, you start feeling much more liberated. You’re FREE, including free to fail! Isn’t that great! I’ve just made failure part of my freedom and turned it into a positive event. I fail because I can!
“Failure is just life trying to move us in a new direction.” ~ Oprah Winfrey
As an entrepreneur, I deal with failure on a daily basis. I steer the boat in whichever direction I think will be best for the business and occasionally, I fail to choose the right direction and it ends up costing me money. But that’s okay because I know that if I had not tried a new direction, I would have also lost money somewhere else. However, once I pass the initial disappointment from having failed, my mindset automatically changes and I start looking forward to coming back much stronger the next time around.
I remember the first time I crashed heavily during a race. I had just spent the entire winter building a new racecar, assembling a new race engine, re-bodied the entire car, roll cage, interior, gauges, etc. Spent hundreds of hours day and night working on it. Then I take it to the first race of the season at Willow Springs in Bakersfield, CA. Right out the box, the car was fast! Willow Springs is a very fast road course. The track’s nickname is “The fastest road in the West.” There are a couple of turns that if you can take flat out, you’re the man! (we use a different expression but I want to keep this article PG-13). I felt so good in the car knowing that all my hard work paid off. But then came failure… I kept trying to go faster and faster. I really wanted to know the limits of the car, never mind about my own limits as a driver. Until I crashed. Yes, I tried to defy physics and physics won. I lost control of the car while taking a downhill, off camber left turn, put two tires off track and from there on, I was just a passenger until I hit the tire barrier head-on quite hard. Thankfully I was okay, although I have to admit that at that point, I would have preferred to hurt myself a little more and the car a little less. The entire front end of the race car was destroyed. Fluids spilling everywhere, parts strewn all over the place, bent wheels, broken lines, but more importantly, my own confidence was shattered.
After a long clean-up process by the track personnel, I decided to seat inside my racecar while the tow truck was slowly bringing it back to my pit area. It was indeed a very slow and painful ride for me, full of strange, screeching and clunking noises as more parts and pieces seemed to be falling off the car. I looked back and it was just loose gravel and debris coming off the bottom of the car that was making all that noise. But for some strange reason, I decided that riding inside my mangled car rather than inside the tow truck will let me gather my thoughts and approach the situation face to face. I wanted to come to terms with what had just happened. Without even realizing it at that time, I was facing my own failure rather than walking away from it.
Amazingly, by the time the tow truck reached the paddock area and my garage to drop off my car, I was already a different person. My mood had completely changed. My energy level was all back up and I was fully excited about building a new car again even better than the one I had just wrecked. While all the other drivers and crews were graciously coming to see if I was OK and to cheer me up, I was already all pumped up. All I wanted to do was load up my trailer and head back home to start working on my newly acquired project! I was home a couple of days earlier than planned, I was able to play with my then four year old son and spend more time with my wife. All of that was bonus family time for me since my family couldn’t come with me to my out of town races.
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Beckett
Of course the story above has a lot of relevance to me. That happened in 2003 and after that time, I have crashed several other times, my racecar has caught fire with me inside –twice- and I’ve had a number of other failures that would have made the average person quit and do something else more than once. But the lesson that I’ve learned is that when you make “failure” part of the process, you tend to overcome it much faster than if you make failure the “end” of your process. You need to first be an “action taker” in order to fail, and that in itself is a huge victory over those who decide to do nothing at all.
Thomas Edison became famous for saying “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.” Yet, how many people know that Edison had so many failures? But the truth is that without his tenacity and his acceptance of failure as part of the innovation process, he wouldn’t have invented a working model of the light bulb after those 10,000 failed prototypes.
As a final thought, let me just congratulate and publicly commend of all of you my friends, partners, colleagues, fellow entrepreneurs, and parents for waking up every day trying to make a difference in your world. No matter how insignificant you might think your actions are, and no matter how many times you may go to bed at night thinking that you failed, please never give up. Wake up the next morning and “try again, fail again, fail better.”
As always, I would love to hear back from you. Feel free to leave your comments below and share with all of us any instance in which you faced failure and how you overcame it. Or any advice that may help the rest of us be stronger every day.
Until next time, this is Manuel Gil del Real (MGR)