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Embracing Failure: It’s the New Success

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“The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure.”

I’ve been thinking about failure since reading this excellent post on Embrace Failure on my favorite children’s literature blog, From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. As an entrepreneur, I embrace failure. It is the surest and quickest path to success. Why? It’s life’s best teacher. You never forget a failure. You learn from it, deeply and profoundly as in:  it keeps you up late a night, pondering, questioning, wondering. It provides options in the form of a nicely forking road. Do you get back in the saddle and try again, all the wiser? Or do you veer left, shimmy right, or duck down below? Failure makes you creative. If you are going to ram your head against the wall, the next time you will choose a nicely padded one.

“Obstacles are things a person sees when he takes his eyes off his goal.”

Not everyone agrees of course. Most pointedly, failure is not an option in Tiger Parenting. “The Chinese parenting approach is weakest when it comes to failure; it just doesn’t tolerate that possibility. The Chinese model turns on achieving success. That’s how the virtuous circle of confidence, hard work, and more success is generated.” Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother Suffice it to say that I don’t buy the Tiger Parenting Model and I don’t buy the idea of failure not being an option. If you eliminate options that can lead to failure, you have very few options left. Worse, your few choices become the path of least resistance.

“Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that’s where you will find success.”

Don’t believe me? Look at Amy Chua’s career. “I went to law school, mainly because I didn’t want to go to medical school.” “After graduating [from law school], I went to a Wall Street law firm because it was the path of least resistance.” “…I decided to write an epic novel. Unfortunately, I had no talent for writing…What’s more, Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan, and Jung Chang all best me to it….At first, I was bitter and resentful, but then I got over it.” In fact, by (sort of) admitting her failings, her book became an international best seller. But in the form of her book, this is the most risk she’s taken in her life.

“The person who gets the farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore.”

I think what is daunting about failure is the publicity around it. Knowing that people will know that you’ve failed. That they’ll whisper behind your back about what an epic failure you are. Even laugh. But here’s the trick. If you own your failure, nothing anyone can say will bother you. That’s the secret. It’s simple really.

“The only real failure in life is the failure to try.”

Of course, you will own the knowledge that comes from failure. This knowledge is hard fought and very valuable. Use each failure to build, brick by brick, your success in whatever form that may be. Because success is never one big idea, or one very talented person, or someone who is “lucky, at the right time and right place.” No. Emphatically no!  It’s like most things: lots of little things added up together such that the sum is greater than the parts. Only the brave can try this. Are you that courageous?

“Most successful men have not achieved their distinction by having some new talent or opportunity presented to them. They have developed the opportunity that was at hand.”


7 thoughts on “Embracing Failure: It’s the New Success

  1. I’m going to print this and give it to my students. Would you like to have your real name on it?

    Posted by Sue VanHattum | August 23, 2011, 2:57 pm
  2. One reason schools change so little is that they deny their own failure and punish students’ “failures” to comply with a narrow vision of school success.I think it’s an important part of our work to protect and create conditions for successful learning – which is not the same thing as successful schooling – inside and outside the classroom for our kids.

    In about six hours we’ll be complete failures at Monopoly as we hack and reinvent it, but we’ll be learning a ton about re-imagining school.

    What are some best/favorite practices in helping colleagues, students, and parents reexamine the pro-learning failures in their lives?


    Posted by Chad Sansing | August 24, 2011, 4:04 am
  3. As someone who is still really working on learning from her failures, rather than being ashamed of them or diminishing them, can you add a couple of anecdotes of failures from your own life from which you’ve learned the most?

    Appreciatively, and wonderful advice,


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | August 30, 2011, 3:12 pm
    • I had started a women’s golf apparel after business school with a classmate. We hired her sister to be the designer which was a big mistake because she had no formal training in fashion design. I fought with my partner over her sister and ultimately lost — our investors had to come in and pick someone to run the company. The company was not profitable yet, but it had good momentum. We were selling at Pebble Beach Resort and Nordstroms as well as other private clubs and resorts.

      I found this whole experience to be devastating, and I ended up talking to my business school mentor who suggested art therapy in the form of an art class where his wife took classes. I took a class with a friend who was between jobs as well. It turned out to be the best experience of my life. The owners of the art school were looking for a business consultant for their art school so we traded art classes for consulting. They became like second parents to me and we still keep in touch to this day.

      As for my art, I took over a dozen classes during the time I lived in Los Angeles and this has unleashed my inner creativity; I found that I was a better business person for having this creative time and I deeply enjoyed honing my artistic skills.

      I am toying with writing and illustrating a picture book. I drew my own header for my blog ( I also learned valuable life lessons of how to pick a business partner and qualities are important.

      When people asked me what happened to that company, I can now own the statement: “We fought over her sister and I got kicked out” with an easy shrug.

      But I’ll never regret starting an apparel manufacturing business … it was a steep learning curve that now has also motivated me to learn Spanish. In fact, I have my entire family (my husband and 3 kids) learning Spanish because I learned the hard way how difficult it is to communicate to your sewing vendors when they don’t speak English. This year we will travel to Spanish to give our language skills a little push.

      I’ve had many other failures in business, but this was the most spectacular and personal.

      Posted by Pragmatic Mom | September 7, 2011, 4:16 pm


  1. Pingback: Embracing Failure: It’s the New Success | Cooperative Catalyst | - August 23, 2011

  2. Pingback: Are You Failure..? « Imagine the Spirit - August 26, 2011

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