I Hope You Fail

failure blocks with a success block on top

Have you ever heard a mentor, teacher, or trusted loved one say those words to you?  It sounds a bit jarring coming from someone you think would want only the best for you.  However, when pondered further, the sentiment is an encouraging one. 

“I am not judged by the number of times I fail, but by the number of times I succeed. And the number of times that I succeed is in direct proportion to the number of times I fail and keep on trying.” This is a mantra that came into my head when I was a young emerging salesman on Wallstreet.  At that time, I read a book, How to Master the Art of Selling by a sales guru by the name of Tom Hopkins.  The most startling part of the book was not just the tactics taught in the book – it was the fact that there was even a guru out there who wrote a book on how to sell. The fact is, there are a lot of gurus out there, all providing insight and perspective on every topic you can imagine.  They didn’t arrive to that position overnight.  What makes an expert an expert is their knowledge and understanding regarding all aspects of a field, discipline or topic.  To obtain this requires time, experience, failure and success. 

There’s one guru in particular who significantly contributed to my own personal evolution; I had a chance to interview him recently on my radio show.  Summarizing all that Barry Farber has accomplished is a bit of a challenge. An entrepreneur, inventor, coach, trainer, agent, tv and radio personality, as well as a best-selling author – of 12 books to be exact – Barry has positioned himself as an expert poised to help others achieve their own personal success   

When it comes to Barry, I can’t think of another word other than “guru” that appropriately describes him and the value he provides to those around him. When I sat down with him one of the first things he said was, “What is most important is to not be afraid to fail…The only way I believe to succeed is when you see something as an obstacle, just attack it. You’re going to fall, you’re going to fail, you’re going to have setbacks.”  But, as he went onto share, success is just another try away.  He referred to this as intelligent action, using the information gained from previous attempts to make future attempts more efficient and eventually a success.

Consider the journey of the Wright brothers, gurus in the area of aeronautical engineering – famous for introducing the mechanics and processes for modern flight.  Between 1899 and 1905, the Wright brothers engaged in continuous research and experimentation that eventually led to the first successful powered airplane in 1903.  Thousands of hours, hundreds of flights and attempts later – many of them presumably “failed attempts” – we now fly around the world in the matter of hours because of those efforts.   

An excerpt from a Britannica description of the Wright brothers’ journey speaks to the significance of the repeated failure experienced and power in our response.  “Eager to improve on the disappointing performance of their 1900 glider, the Wrights increased the wing area of their next machine to 290 square feet (26 square metres)…The 1901 Wright aircraft was an improvement over its predecessor, but it still did not perform as well as their calculations had predicted…Discouraged, but determined to preserve a record of their aeronautical work to date, Wilbur accepted [an] invitation to address the prestigious Western Society of Engineers. It indicated the extent to which the Wright brothers, in spite of their disappointments, had already moved beyond other flying machine experimenters.” 

Their attempts didn’t stop there.  They would go on to use information from their previous failures to improve and eventually create an aircraft unlike anything that had been seen before. In fact, the claim that they had actually achieved flight success was doubted by many in the beginning years, as other innovators were struggling with their attempts.  Failure is what ultimately led to the technology we have today.  A label attached to the 1903 Wright airplane that is on display at the Smithsonian states, “By original scientific research, the Wright brothers discovered the principles of human flight. As inventors, builders and flyers, they further developed the aeroplane, taught man to fly, and opened the era of aviation.”

Going back to my conversation with Barry, he touched on why some people become gurus, experts, or experiences success.  “They never gave up.  They never stopped trying and coming back with new ideas to make themselves more efficient in their actions.”

As we spoke, Barry shared two essential pieces of advice as it pertains to failure and success:

  • Follow something you believe in, because when you get knocked down a lot trying to achieve something that is challenging, your passion and belief in something is what will keep you going.  Your passion it what will allow you to come back stronger than before. If you don’t believe in it, it won’t be worth it.
  • Make it a priority to learn something new every day.  Ask yourself what you can learn, or what you did learn that was new that day.  If you aren’t learning, you’re going backwards.  Getting outside our comfort level is necessary for success. 

An article title and subtitle for the Scientific American read, “Why Did the Wright Brothers Succeed When Others Failed?  They weren’t trained as engineers—but they were raised to have an insatiable intellectual curiosity.” The article goes on to highlight a response Orville Wright once gave to a reporter regarding what made them and their success so different.  He answered, “The greatest thing in our favor was growing up in a family where there was always much encouragement to intellectual curiosity. If my father had not been the kind who encouraged his children to pursue intellectual interests without any thought of profit, our early curiosity about flying would have been nipped too early to bear fruit.”

With curiosity, passion, and persistence, failure isn’t just failure, it’s a necessary step in the path toward success. Any guru, from Barry Farber to the Wright brothers will agree – you need to fail.  You can access my discussion with Barry here.

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