We are all familiar with the saying ‘To err is human’ (Errare humanum est in Latin) attributed to Seneca, but what about its second part? It goes, ‘but to persist in it is foolish’ (Lat. in errore perservare stultum).
Sometimes mistakes are hard to avoid. Founder and CEO of the American restaurant chain Famous Dave’s America Inc. (currently 153 locations in 33 states), David W. Anderson considers failure an integral part of a success. In his case, failures paved the way for spectacular successes. Established in 1994, his first restaurant was destroyed in a fire. He was frustrated and went bankrupt, but eventually became hugely successful. Dave believes that he would not be where he is now had it not been for the people whom he encountered in his life and who gave him a second chance. Today, he is a founder of three companies listed at the New York Stock Exchange; he created over 18,000 jobs. His restaurant chain is considered the best restaurant concept in the US. Winner of the Bush Leadership Fellowship, he got an MA degree at the Harvard University (skipping a BA degree) and was awarded the title of an “Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year” (in Minnesota and Dakota) by Ernst & Young, NASDAQ and USA Today.
Nowadays Dave dedicates his time to making changes in his community and in the lives of less fortunate people. As a passionate speaker, he shares his enthusiasm with youth groups and social organisations. He always stresses that irrespective of how difficult things may seem today, if you never give up on your dream and work hard, you will reap the awards tomorrow.
Each of us experienced failure in their lives, whether in personal or professional life, big or small. It is worth looking at these failures not as factors hampering our growth, but rather as stepping stones to success.
There is no lift to a success. You have to take the stairs.
Let us imagine a highway pile-up. It usually starts with a car crash involving two vehicles, later joined by others. In the end, there are so many of them that the road gets filled to capacity. What is the usual response of a driver taking part in a pile-up? They typically provide the following explanations:
- A car came out of nowhere, bumped into mine and disappeared
- When I was approaching the junction, a fence suddenly appeared and obscured the view
- I was only trying to keep up with the cars behind me, that is all
- I pulled over, glanced at my mother-in-law and turned straight into a guard rail
Please note that each of the participants made a mistake but none of them will admit it. Instead, they point to various obstacles that are to blame for the situation.
It is natural for people to try to conceal their mistakes. A joke about a young pilot provides a great example of this attitude:
Prior to the start of manoeuvres, the admiral imposed radio silence. However, one of the pilots switched the radio on by mistake and was heard by everybody:
- Shit, I screwed it up!
The admiral snatched a microphone from a wireless operator and said:
- The pilot who has just broken the radio silence is to identify himself immediately!
After a long pause, the pilot replied:
- I may have screwed it up, but I’m not that stupid!
- Stanley Judd used to say, Don’t be afraidto fail. Don’t waste energy trying to cover up failure. Learn from your failures and go on to the next challenge. It’s OK to fail. If you’re not failing, you’re not growing.
We tend to be very fond of our pre-conceived ideas and are reluctant to take other people’s advice. Sometimes we work harder and faster, but continue down the wrong road. It is as if we tried to plug a round hole with a square peg. Instead, we should take a step back and look at it at a different angle. Having drawn our conclusions, we can adopt the right course. Otherwise, we will keep on working hard but achieve nothing, still trying to force this square peg into a round hole and ultimately helping ourselves with a hammer.
Nobody prevents you from trying. Keep trying and if you fail, think what you may be doing wrong. Only after such analysis, have another go at it, but do things differently this time.
Have you ever talked to someone who is aware of having made a mistake but continues to pursue the wrong course of action just to prove that they are right? They know that they were wrong but would not admit it for the world. Chief of staff of the US Army during the World War I, General Peyton C. March used to say, Any man worth his salt will stick up for what he believes right, but it takes a slightly bigger man to acknowledge instantly and without reservation that he is in error.
You can desperately stick with the wrong path, trying to talk yourself into thinking that you did not make a mistake, but the harder you try to convince others, the less they think of you and the less you think of yourself. Sometimes all it takes is to make yourself say it, ‘I was wrong.’ Each failure is a crossroads. An opportunity to choose the right thing and a lesson learned. You either let yourself sink into the quicksand until it swallows you up, or calm down and let others help you. Perhaps somebody will hand you a stick and pull you out of this mess.
According to John C.Maxwell, you can make the most of your mistakes by perceiving them as:
- Messages that give us feedback about life.
- Interruptions that should cause us to reflect and think.
- Signposts that direct us to the right path.
- Tests that push us toward greater maturity.
- Awakenings that keep us in the game mentally.
- Keys that we can use to unlock the next door of opportunity.
- Explorations that let us journey where we’ve never been before.
- Statements about our development and progress.
Can you see the word made of the first letters of the sentences above? Own up to your decisions. Nobody wants you to set up a shrine for your mistakes; learn from them and draw the right conclusions.
Don’t be afraid of failure as each of them leads you to victory.
Excerpts from the book by John C. Maxwell Failing Forward
Business Psychologist, Mentor, Founder of INSPIRE