Six Hard Lessons Only Failure Can Teach

There is no doubt that en route to success, failure is something you encounter more often than you would care to recall.

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By Johan Hanekom


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Success is always an attention grabber, whilst failure tends to be relegated to the ash heap of history. However, there is no doubt that en route to success, failure is something you encounter more often than you would care to recall. Failure has been rebranded into scores of different definitions, but for the purpose of this article, let's just keep it simple: failure is the opposite of success. If you've managed to avoid it until now, here are some inside tips on dealing with failure when it does hit:

1. Mirror time You are the reason why you failed. All too often when we fail, there is a natural inclination to look externally for people or events to blame. Whilst it is important to understand what external factors contributed to your failure, it's imperative that you take full responsibility for the result. This level of extreme ownership is the only way to truly maintain productive control of the situation and learn from the experience.

2. Root cause analysis Failure can often leave a trail of destruction. You will experience low self-worth, destroyed confidence, woefulness, and find yourself being risk and opportunity averse. It is critical that you take time to analyze what went wrong. Clearly, the results were not achieved, so root cause analysis should highlight where it started going wrong.

3. Microwave culture Our present-day society is geared towards instant gratification. We are obsessed with achieving success in the leanest possible fashion. Our microwave success diet yields low but easily achievable results. Real success –the type that changes your life and the lives you touch– does not happen at this input level. You need to be obsessed with your goal and be putting in mind numbing levels of effort. To do this, surround yourself with people who share your insane work ethic– do not waste time and energy listening to people advising you to take it easy or to stop and smell the flowers.

4. Mental fortitude Life is tough, and there are no safe spaces. You will be tried, tested, weighed, measured, and if found wanting, will be judged accordingly. There is no chance of really succeeding in life without experiencing some degree of failure. To this end you need to develop your inner citadel. This is not a safe space– it is where you go to regroup before throwing yourself at your goals again.

5. Big match temperament If you have experienced a series of failures, there is a real danger that you can become desensitized to it. Whilst it's important to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm; a timeout needs to be called before launching into the next opportunity. Get your big match temperament game face on when you spot your next opportunity to succeed at a goal. Whether this is before an interview, sales pitch, meeting, casual chat, etc., don't idle through the opportunity– acknowledge the potential impact a successful outcome could have, and actively work towards achieving the desired outcome.

6. Embrace the suck All too often, the pain associated with failure is avoided at all cost. To this end, you should not indulge in self-pity but instead put yourself up for trial. Life is the judge and the prosecutor is failure. Surprisingly enough there is no defence attorney. Failure permits no alibis. You're going to be cross examined, exposed for where you planned poorly, put in average or no effort, listened to bad advice, and just generally screwed up.

Success is great– it's the culmination of planning, arduous work, grit, and determination. Failure however is where the greatest learning can take place if you adopt the right mindset. In the words of David Kelley: fail faster, succeed sooner.

Related: Pulling The Plug: Shutting Down Your Startup May Be The Best Way Forward For An Entrepreneur

Johan Hanekom

Johan Hanekom is a globally recognized expert on strategy, innovation, and growth with an emphasis on corporate entrepreneurship. A believer in social entrepreneurship, his paper while at Oxford focused on developing a nation of social entrepreneurs in Africa. Johan can be reached on Twitter @johanhanekom.



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