When was the last time you failed in a big way? If you could go back, do you know what you would do differently? We spend too much time stressing about failing, too much time lost in the past trying to change what is already done. Instead, we should start appreciating our errors for what they really are – the blueprints for our success.
You can tell someone not to touch a hot stove a dozen times, but nothing will teach the lesson like a burnt finger. While this is certainly true, not all of our lessons or failures need to be painful in order to be effective. There are times when failure is built into the learning process. Elon Musk is a good example of a leader who is prepared to face large, public setbacks in order to achieve his vision. When a rocket of his explodes, the whole world watches and waits for his response. He is hardly ashamed of the mistakes and setbacks SpaceX has suffered. Last year, SpaceX went so far as to post a video of some of their spectacular crashes titled “How Not to Land an Orbital Rocket Booster.”
I will not speak for Musk, but this seems to show a real confidence in the future. Assuredness is a big part of leveraging your mistakes. If you have a strong belief in your mission, you are more likely to treat these moments as hiccups instead of throwing in the towel.
When I think back on the early days of my company, I cannot help but wince just little at some of the moves I made. There is not a CEO alive who cannot think of better ways to do what they did. What I am still proud of, though, is that I chose a mission worth sticking to all these years later. I wanted to help people change what is possible for their companies and their entrepreneurial goals. That has been my North Star in trying moments.
I do not enjoy failing but I am made stronger each time I do. My goal is large enough that I know it requires some missteps. You are dreaming too small if there is no difficulty in your journey.
Sometimes, these lessons are right on the nose – you touched the stove, now you know what happens. Other times, our failures push us to realize unknown potential. Musk’s failed rocket launches and landings propel his legacy because we are certain that he will do what he says. If you were in the lab with Thomas Edison, you would be surrounded by failure. While we remember him for his success, his mistakes were vital. The man himself said, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
We are quick to think of Edison, or Rowling, or Lincoln as people who failed over and over again but ultimately triumphed. The truth of the matter is that everyone who ever achieved greatness did so by failing. They did so by crawling across the thorns of defeat countless times. If you do not let your errors derail you, if you can learn from them, then these failures truly are just stepping stones.
If you would like to see more of my thoughts on entrepreneurship, my recent pieces for my blog and Forbes are all available here. I am also taking my message to audiences across the country – I hope to see you soon.