Can Failure Fuel Success?

Failure is not enjoyable and often unanticipated. While we enjoy celebrating victories we are quick to quit when the potential to fail is high.

Authentic victory rarely comes without struggle and, more commonly, it follows failure. It takes both courage and ignorance to allow a team to struggle and fail. Courage to not protect them from failing and ignorance of the fact there is no guarantee of success.

This photo is a group of boys I started coaching 10 years ago. The Jayhawks were a group of young men who came together after being selected to a sixth grade all-star basketball team.

Early success on the basketball court filled them with energy and confidence. They were celebrating the victories and having a lot of fun-until they started to struggle and lose.

After losing all six games of our spring season, by a large margin, in all but one game, we began preparing for the start of our summer season. One of the player’s mom called and told me she was going to move her son to another team. She said another team wanted him, they were a winning team, and it was not good for her son to get used to struggling and losing.

So, we lost a player and six more games.

“You can make some mistakes, even big mistakes and still prevail.”

Jim Collins, Good to Great

The boys were improving, learning how to compete, and embracing the process. We opened the 14 game fall season with a single goal. Win one game. It did not take long as we opened the season with a win. What do you do after you reach one goal? Set a new goal-win a second game.

“It’s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what is required.”

—Winston Churchill

The Jayhawks continued to learn, grow and develop. They went undefeated, 14-0, and earned a berth in the sectional playoffs. What can you learn from The Jayhawks?

  • Victory that follows struggle and failure can be drawn upon as a source of strength and encouragement when facing defeat in the future.
  • Commitment to the process of improvement is critical to sustaining the effort necessary to produce competence.
  • Don’t let anything rob you of your passion. Optimism and enthusiasm are essential to your success.
  • A good coach or leader must be committed to helping you go places you could not go on your own.

The Jayhawks played their last game together eight years ago. This group of young men will graduate from some of the finest universities in the country in the next few weeks: Air Force Academy, Harvard, LMU, Texas, USC, UCSD, and Washington State. Many are graduating with honors and starting their professional careers. Congratulations boys!

This photograph hangs in my office as a reminder of these lessons. We like to avoid failure, we like to protect our teams, our kids and even ourselves from struggles and failure. Winning is not always easy but it is impossible if we quit or do not push ourselves to keep learning and competing.

“When we reach our destinations – when we achieve our goals we are the most vulnerable to failure. We become caught up in celebrating the achievement and neglect to reset new goals for ourselves. Without that resetting, chaotic feelings descend and push us toward safe, no-risk paths.”

Morris Schechman, Working Without A Net

Congratulations to everyone graduating or reaching new milestones this spring. Time to dream new dreams and set new goals!

Question: How important is failure to success? What do you think? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

2 thoughts on “Can Failure Fuel Success?

  1. Jim, I am in a position of coaching a new team of Sales Professionals and many of them are young and afraid to make mistakes. This article is very timely as I have been encouraging my team to get out there and make mistakes, get in front of customers, and get bloody. This message has helped them eliminate their fears and be more relaxed to perform better in front of the customer. (A great man once told me that Fear is just a false expectation appearing real). Also, This team has a great name. Congratulations to these young men for their hard work, persaverance, and courage to try new things! GO JAYHAWKS!! Todd aka Jayhawk

    • Todd, glad this was timely and effective. Tough tasks don’t get easier we just get better at them when we continue to work on improving.

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