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Why Failure Now Doesn't Predict Anything About Your Success Later

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What do Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein and countless other successful entrepreneurs have in common? They all view failure as a stepping-stone toward success rather than an end in itself. Here’s what I mean.


Walt Disney went bankrupt three times, before he didn’t. Thomas Edison failed 1,000 times, before he didn't. Henry Ford went bankrupt five times, before he didn’t. Do you notice a pattern here? Not one of these landmark entrepreneurs stopped in their tracks when failure presented itself. They knew that their failings didn’t make them failures.

How did startup success stories overcome the mental roadblocks that obstructed their views of the finish line? Booze. Just kidding, don’t do that. Seriously though, what successful people do to move past uncertainty is this: they redefine what success looks like. Here’s how:

Disconnect identity from idea.

You and your idea are two separate elements. Personally, I've’ve had a ton of stupid ideas but they don’t necessarily make me a moron. Ok, that may be debatable, so let’s consider Henry Ford’s vision for success instead. If he had asked people in the early 1900s if they wanted a car, they would’ve said, “That’s ridiculous. Why would I need a car when I have a horse?” People back then had no idea what cars were because cars hadn't been introduced yet. Did hearing Ford's offer make him sound silly? Maybe, but his idea sure wasn't. Ford had a vision that he knew would revolutionize the world and didn’t let people’s negative feedback impact his idea because he knew that he and his idea were two different things.

Related: 3 Ways to Wring at Least Some ROI From Failure

Separate process from outcome.

While having a goal is good, don’t let the stress associated with achieving that goal bog you down. It can be overwhelming to try to achieve your goal all at once. Don't do it. Instead, work backwards from the desired end state and identify the steps necessary to get there. Then, break down each of those steps into daily or weekly action plans. This way, your focus is on the short-term tasks that lead to success rather than on success itself. If I had focused on making it through Hell Week during BUD/S (Navy SEAL Training), I would've never made it. Instead, I focused on the next meal which was only four hours away. Short-term focus is more digestible than a long-term focus. Plus, you get immediate feedback along the way which affords greater opportunities to adapt.

Related: 5 Habits That Will Guarantee Your Failure in Life


Deliberate practice is the process of, well, practicing deliberately. It’s the means by which you improve a skill on a consistent basis. However, deliberate practice doesn't just apply to the external behaviors that involve social judgment, such as guitar playing, presenting a marketing plan, making a sales pitch, or any other myriad performances where others judge your performance. Deliberate practice should also be applied to “internal” behaviors such as effective thinking. To change how you feel you must change how you think because thoughts lead to emotions which compel behaviors (yes, that was the nerd in my speaking). To do this, there are plenty of activities you can do such as speaking to the positive, keeping a gratitude journal, or assuming a power pose (free tip: avoid the downward dog in public) made famous by Amy Cuddy’s TED talk.

Related: Failure Is Not the End. It's an Opportunity to Learn.

Success--in anything--doesn’t come easily. It’s the byproduct of consistent and deliberate thinking habits that yield actionable results. Remember, just because you fail, that doesn't make you a failure. Learn and move on.

Jeff Boss

Written By

Jeff Boss is the author of two books, team leadership coach and former 13-year Navy SEAL where his top awards included four Bronze Stars with valor and two Purple Hearts. Visit him online at www.jeff-boss.com