Falling – and Succeeding

By James Ahola

sparkMy son came home from a school ski-trip the other day. Never having skied before, this was a new experience for him. Over dinner, he recounted stories of some great falls he had during the day along with the cheers and laughter of his friends. But each time he wiped out, he got back up, dusted himself off, adjusted his skis and tried again. You could tell by the smile on his face and the happiness in his voice that the joy of swooshing down the slope and the thrill of learning something new was well worth the bumps, cold snow on his neck and moments of embarrassment.

We have all been through failures like this – skiing, riding a bike, golfing, swimming, and, if we go back far enough, even walking. We took them in stride. Other failures, however, can be harder to handle. Not being accepted into the school of your choice, not getting your dream job, or even more painfully, not getting a date with that special person. These failures hurt in a different way; the bruises are deeper and the cuts are much colder, but the route we should follow is the same. We need to assess where we went wrong, dust ourselves off and try again, this time a little wiser. And if we fall again, we simply repeat the process.

Failure is an important part of life because it teaches us much more than success ever will. Success is a fantastic reward that we all cherish, but it is a very poor teacher. Success only tells us that the combination we tried was right. Unlike failure, it doesn’t show us our limitations or where adjustments should be made. Failure helps us to build things stronger, faster, bigger and better. It explicitly shows us what not to do and what else is required. Most importantly, failure teaches us to try again and explore other options. If we want to succeed and experience more than we ever have before, we must be willing to fail more than ever before.

All we have learned and everything written in the books that fill our libraries are recipes for success that have been gleaned from innumerable failures. Whether they be military strategies, cooking recipes, engineering or architectural designs, the road of knowledge is paved with trial and error. We can quickly find, and in minutes grasp, Thomas Edison’s successful recipe for the light bulb. But that one recipe was arrived at after many hours of work and literally thousands of failures.

Treat all failures like you would an experiment. If it didn’t work, why not? What would happen if we tried it another way? Failure isn’t a comment on you, your ability, your talent, or even the possibilities that exist. It is simply a failed experiment that tells you that the combination of activities in that particular order will produce undesirable results.

It is failure that teaches an artist how to capture beauty on a blank canvas and a metallurgist how to extract gold from a stone. It is failure that has taught us how to build longer bridges and taller skyscrapers. And it is failure that will teach you how to build a successful business, develop stronger relationships, and eventually help you get what you want from life.

We had another small failure in our household when my eldest son, who loves everything sweet, tried to make a new drink by mixing fruit juice with chocolate syrup. He figured that since fruit juice and chocolate syrup both taste good, the combination must be awesome. Wrong: it was awful! However, in keeping with our theme, after a few alterations he had sliced fruit dipped in melted chocolate – a much more appetizing result. If you don’t shy away from failure but take it in stride, are a good student and let it teach you, failure will show you the path to sweet success.