That’s a rather provocative title, I suppose. Surely if you can avoid failure that is better, right? Not necessarily. There are two ways to avoid failure.
- Working so hard and doing such a good job that you succeed.
- Only taking on projects that are so far below your capabilities that failure is never a realistic possibility.
If you want to succeed–really succeed, you have to be willing to take on things that have a high chance of failing. If you only attempt things that you know you can do, you aren’t challenging yourself properly. If you never have any failures, it is a pretty good indication that you aren’t taking on things that are true challenges for you.
You are selling yourself short if you only attempt things you know you can do. People who have great successes attempt things that are at the edge of what is possible. This means that once in awhile they aren’t going to make it, but if they always hit the mark it means they aren’t shooting high enough.
Failure also gives you a chance to learn things that you wouldn’t learn otherwise. If you pay attention to your failures you can learn how to do things that will help you succeed. Don’t underestimate the value of these lessons. Not everyone that goes through a failure, can learn from it. Some people see failure as something forced on them from outside–something that isn’t their fault. People who learn from their mistakes have an internal locus of control and see failures as shortcomings in what they were capable of. This type of attitude is necessary to learn from mistakes.
Of course, the idea isn’t to try to fail. You need to try to succeed, but you need to try to succeed at things that are right on the threshold of being beyond your limits. When you take on challenges that stretch you, it will increase your capabilities. When you only do things that are not challenging, what you are capable of remains fixed, and sometimes even regresses.
Originally published April 30, 2007.