The Two Critical Components to Failing Well | Failing Forward

There are two critical components to failing well. First, it can’t be fatal. Second, you must learn from it. If you follow these two guidelines, future failures will rock your world in positive ways.

Two components of failing well

One day you’ll stand on a mountain of failures that led to the peak. Only if they aren’t fatal and you learn from them. (Tweet that)

There is only one type of failure that you should make every effort to avoid: fatal failure.

Of course, this literally includes life and death, but it also applies to anything that could kill your dream, your business, or tear apart relationships.

Failing Forward

Instead of failing fatally, you want to fail forward. You want to make sure that your failure still moves you towards your destination in some way.

I like to think of it like driving down a road. Detours are fine as long as they still move you toward your destination. Slowing down to a crawl is OK too, as long as you keep moving in the right direction. Failure should be the same way.

So I encourage people, especially entrepreneurs, to take risks. But don’t take your last $100,000 and put it on one idea. Spend $40,000 or even $60,000 on that idea. If you succeed, the victory will still be sweet, but if you fail, you don’t have to explain to twenty people why they no longer have jobs or to your spouse why you have to move into a cardboard box.

Learning from Failure 

There is always something to be learned from every failure (or success). A few years ago, I was sued…literally…by the FTC. Yes, they soon dropped their case against me, but the initial blow to my psyche was severe. But I did two important things right away:

One, I kept moving forward. I didn’t let it discourage me or get me off course.

Two, I digested the lessons from it. I wasn’t focused on FTC compliance before the suit. I learned the hard way how to be compliant. Now I am an expert on the subject. I am the one people look to with questions about FTC compliance. I took a difficult situation and over time used it to my advantage.

I took a weakness and made it a strength. All because I initially failed. That is the essence of failing forward. Strength from weakness. Knowledge from ignorance. Using it to your advantage.

You will look back on life one day and realize you are on a mountaintop. You will be standing on a mountain of failures that together led you to the peak. But only if they aren’t fatal and only if you learn from them.

How have you used failure to your advantage?

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  • Let’s Grow Leaders

    You do have an interesting life 😉 Your wife must be a saint.

  • David Mike

    We are evaluated by our students annually and the insight that is gained is very valualable. Sometimes it is great feedback and othertimes I am presented with a challenge, to better serve an individual or two. I used to get defensive but, after I matured as a Cosmetology Instructor I realized that this “failure” was growth potential. Jesus washed peoples feet and as the worlds greatest servant leader, I must follow his example. (We do pedicures, but not what I mean). Thanks, again for such great insight Matt.

    • HA! Love the part about pedicures…I did a double take to make sure I did not read that wrong. :)

      Way to go David!

  • Last year I bid on a huge mural. I visited the site, spoke with the coordinator several times, spent what felt like hours on the bid. I didn’t get the job. So, as hard as it was, I called the guy to ask what caused him to choose someone else. What he told me will help my bidding skills next time. (The man who got the job is a far better painter than I am and he did a FANTASTIC job on that wall.)

    • Great example Jana!

      THANK you for sharing.

      • Another thought about this is what Michael Hyatt teaches about failure: the question to ask is “What does this make possible?” What losing the mural made possible was that I am able to push ahead on the book. It would have been on hold for about half a year if I had been commuting 2 hours and painting another 8-10 hours, 5 days a week (the 6th day reserved for my students and the 7th for rest.) It probably also made it possible for me to stay married to my newly retired husband! 😎

  • I really like the listen to post option, great idea! I’ve learned failure (not fatal) leads to success if we learn from what has happened. Great post!

  • Matt Larson

    Timely post. I was thinking about a buddy of mine who had a particular substance abuse issue. He said he felt like when he was a kid he had a particular calling on his life, but with the life he was leading, that was now impossible. He got clean & because of the organization he was connected with, a speaking opportunity came out of it. From there he was off to the races. If it hadn’t been for his struggles yet still keeping at it, he said the dream probably wouldn’t have happened – he would have been off chasing something else. Thanks for the audio version – I listened to this on the way back from a meeting & otherwise it would’ve probably ended up in my never-ending “to read” bookmarks.

    • What an awesome story Matt. Thank you for sharing.

      I’m thinking of putting the audio blog on iTunes. Will let you know if/when that happens!

  • Zech Newman

    Great post Matt. The strength and confidence that comes from learning after failure is huge. I opened a second pizza place with debt it was not the huge success I thought it would be and took way longer to pay it off. It’s still open but I will never borrow again because of this. I will expand when my bank account shows I’m ready for it:) Be blessed.

    • “I will expand when my bank account shows I’m ready for ith”

      That is a great philosophy Zech.

      You learned from the failure and that is what matters. I did the same when my cable was cut off in college and I was forced to listen to Dave Ramsey. Worked out well :)

    • I was talking with a bunch of folks about avoiding debt (is the reason I am driving a 2001 Saturn with no AC) and you would have thought I was from Mars…. Sounds like you are on the right track!

  • I’m using my experience of overcoming being stuck in work I didn’t love in the past to help others do the same. I wouldn’t be in a position of strength to help others if I didn’t go through the things that I have.

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