A number of years ago, an aspiring writer interviewed Thomas J. Watson, the President of IBM. Watson gave him this advice: “It’s not exactly my line, “he said, but would you like me to give you a formula for writing success? It’s quite simple, really. Double you rate of failure.”
“You are making a common mistake. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. Failure is a teacher – a harsh one perhaps, but the best. You say you have a desk full of rejected manuscripts? That’s great! Every one of those manuscripts was rejected for a reason. Have you pilled them to pieces looking for that reason? 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’ll find success. On the far side of failure.”
That is profound and full of truths. Failure is a friend, not an enemy. Failure is a school teacher, not a taskmaster. See it as such and you will benefit immensely. I am always thrilled by the definition of success I saw somewhere. It says “success is moving from one failure to another without losing enthusiasm!”
Don’t allow your failures or setbacks to discourage you. Failure needs not be fatal. Arthur Godson, the aspiring writer to whom Watson gave the advice, went on to become a well known author and editor. He later said of Watson’s advice, “Somewhere inside me, a basic attitude had shifted. A project turned down, a lot of rejected manuscripts –why, these are nothing to be ashamed of. They were rungs in a ladder- that was all.
Many people are deathly afraid to fail. They see mistakes as their worst enemy. When treated properly, however, failure can lead to great success and be a great learning experience. Henry Ford observed, "Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently." Don't try to hide your mistakes, simply admit them, learn from them and grow from them. Remember that it's OK to fail! It is okay to make mistakes as long as you don’t make the same mistake twice.
I guess I have shared the story of Sir Edmund Hillary before. Let me share it again to drive this point home. Sir Edmund Hillary was the first man to climb Mount Everest. On May 29, 1953 he scaled the highest mountain then known to man-29,000 feet straight up. He was knighted for his efforts. He even made American Express card commercials because of it! However, until we read his book, High Adventure, we don't understand that Hillary had to grow into this success. You see, in 1952 he attempted to climb Mount Everest, but failed. A few weeks later a group in England asked him to address its members. Hillary walked on stage to a thunderous applause. The audience was recognizing an attempt at greatness, but Edmund Hillary saw himself as a failure. He moved away from the microphone and walked to the edge of the platform. He made a fist and pointed at a picture of the mountain. He said in a loud voice, "Mount Everest, you beat me the first time, but I'll beat you the next time because you've grown all you are going to grow... but I'm still growing!" A year later, he succeeded where he has failed.
I have learnt something about successful people. They don’t avoid mistakes; they handle it. Peter Drucker once said "The better a man is, the more mistakes he will make, for the more new things he will try. I would never promote into a top level job a man who was not making mistakes…otherwise he is sure to be mediocre."
Failure should be a teacher, not an undertaker. Failure isn’t bad if it doesn’t attack the heart. Success is alright if it doesn’t get to the head.
Keep on keeping on!