“I am a failure.” With those words, I launched this blog more than seven months ago.

Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm. - Quote from Winston Churchill
Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm. – Winston Churchill (Tweet That) | Share this Graphic on Pinterest | Share on Facebook

But I was wrong. I meant well, but my words were poorly chosen.

If you have ever listened to Zig Ziglar, you have probably heard him say that “failure is an event, not a person.” I certainly had.

So why did I write those words? Why did I declare that “I am a failure?” Probably for effect more than anything. But that doesn’t make them right.

Can you imagine anyone saying:

“I am cancer.”

“I am the flu.”

“I am a bad haircut.”

“I am a fan of the Backstreet Boys.”

Of course not. These are all events, not persons. They are phases of life that we pass through. They do not identify us.

I have failed many times and I am grateful for each event of failure. While I have learned a lot from books and from the failures of others, I have learned the most from my own mistakes and misfortunes.

The fact is that on the road to success, you will fail many times. Sometimes it will be entirely your fault. Sometimes there is nothing you can do to prevent it. Navigating the road successfully, though, requires that you know how to react to failures.

How should you respond to failure?

I found the answer in a biography of Winston Churchill:

Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.

The proper reaction to failure is to keep going. Yes, take the time to learn from it. But do not dwell on it. And certainly, do not allow it to dampen your spirits.

Maintain the same enthusiasm for reaching your goal that you had before the failure. If you are particularly daring, ramp it up. Be even more excited because you just learned something. That failure is behind you now and that is cause for rejoicing!

Said another way:

Success is not in reaching the mountaintop. It’s in climbing out of every valley along the way.

How have you used failure as a catalyst to success?

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36 thoughts on “How should you respond to failure?

  1. Wade_Thorson says:

    Like you said the biggest thing with failure is to learn for the next time. One failure I had that has helped going forward was when I missed some upfront planning on a project and it failed hard later on. But since then we do some through planning on all projects because of it, and I am currently canceling a potential major project because of the information we learned during this study.
    I like the statement insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Learn from the mistakes, change and improve.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Very well said Wade.

      Making a decision like that shows character and leadership strength. Well done.

  2. Laura Johnson says:

    This post is SO refreshing–Thanks, Matt!

  3. Carol Dublin says:

    I am a firm believer in things happen for a reason, so when I fail, it is generally because there was something I needed to learn. I try to approach failure with the attitude of learning and looking ahead, and see what I can do better to succeed next time. Of course a latte and some chocolate kind of ease the pain of the moment before moving ahead!

    1. Kathy Leicester says:

      You should see some of my major crashes on the ski slopes, Carol! I’ve learned something from each one, including how much more I appreciate the lodge at the bottom of the hill, with the lattes, chocolate, and fries.

      1. Carol Dublin says:

        Ha! Yeah, I don’t ski – it would be ugly. Gotta love the lodge!

    2. Matt McWilliams says:


      Latte and chocolate…there is a time to say “this sucks, I need a moment.” The good thing is even a super duper grande latte and a biggie sized bar of chocolate only take 30 minutes to consume (and a week to burn off haha). Then it’s time to get back on track…or find a new track.

      1. Carol Dublin says:

        You got it. If it’s a skinny latte and Dove Bliss chocolate squares, then it’s truly only a moment.

  4. Dan Erickson says:

    If we are consistently working on our God-given talents and completing projects we cannot be a failure. Failure does not exist to those who try. We may not attain what the world has told us is successful. We may have some problems along the way. But if we’re on the journey we are success.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      “But if we’re on the journey we are success.”

      Well said Dan!

      1. Dan Erickson says:

        Thanks, Matt… I’m told my students the same thing today.

    2. “Failure does not exist to those who try.” Thank you! Can I just take that to the bank?

      1. Dan Erickson says:

        Sure, but they may not cash it for you. But that’s part of the problem we equate success with finacial reward.

  5. I find that when I fail, the worst thing to do is to try to keep those failures hidden from people around me. When I share with others and talk about it, I find that it blesses others, it tears down walls to further deepen relationships and it keeps me humble…or at least breaks up a little more of that nasty pride in me. Its preparing me for bigger things to come! Great post, as always! Thanks!

    1. Kathy Leicester says:

      I really appreciate the “…it tears down walls to further deepen relationships….” I tend to become very task-oriented and need people like you to remind me that relationships are critical.

      1. Well, I’m not going anywhere cuz I need to be in this environment regularly. Your rubbing shoulders with the right people on these blogs to further grow your relationships here and in your other circles. Im always so encouraged and get great reminders EVERY time I read and hear from the CLo/Tribe and all the other followers who blog.

      2. Matt McWilliams says:


    2. Mark Sieverkropp says:

      So true! It takes alot of self confidence and humility to share our failures. It’s like we forget that all the people we are around are imperfect and make mistakes too. Like somehow we are the only person that has EVER made a mistake. It’s our pride 🙂

    3. Matt McWilliams says:

      Well said Kelly.

      I think the greatest thing about sharing them is that the other person or people are always able to:

      1. Glean some learning opportunities I missed.
      2. Help me to see that the result is usually not as bad as I thought.
      3. Help me recover, dig out from it, make up for it, etc.
      4. Check in on me to see how I am progressing.

  6. I envision my personal critic in my head, I know what he looks like and how he acts. I have a conversation with him almost every morning in mediation. I let him express himself and then take away the good stuff.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      That is really good Jim.

      Your personal critic has value. Like “Matt, you look funny wearing a pink beret.” That is helpful criticism.

      I like that you take away good stuff as well. Very nice Jim.

      1. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        Matt, I’m just gonna throw it out…there are some things that should not get far enough for your personal critic to have to say something. One of those would be you wearing a pink beret….

      2. Matt McWilliams says:


      3. I think Mark is right….

      4. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        BOOM!!! #mattgotowned

      5. Matt McWilliams says:

        I think that is #pwned

  7. Kathy Leicester says:

    I think it was Zig Ziglar who said that the crops we eat on the mountaintop are grown in the valley. WOOT!

    The money paragraph of the post–RAMP IT UP: “Maintain the same enthusiasm for reaching your goal that you had before the failure. If you are particularly daring, ramp it up. Be even more excited because you just learned something. That failure is behind you now and that is cause for rejoicing!”

    Supergood, inspiring post, Matt.

    1. Mark Sieverkropp says:

      That’s a cool quote by Zig, thanks for sharing!

    2. Matt McWilliams says:

      I liked that paragraph too. I wrote this last week and had to apply it big time this week.

  8. Mark Sieverkropp says:

    I agree with you Matt. I definitely don’t revel in failure, or look forward to it, but I certainly learn the most from it. It is a reminder of what not to do. It’s a reminder of where I fell short last time. It’s how we learn.
    We certainly try not to learn from mistakes, but, I dont know about everyone else, but I’m not perfect, so I end up failing, and the only way to not make that failure a complete loss is to learn and grow from it.
    Thanks for sharing! And I love that quote!

  9. Jon Stolpe says:

    Messy Spirituality by Michael Yaconelli is a great parallel read for your post today. Failure is such a great way to learn – as long as we stay open to learning from our mistakes.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I’ll have to check that out Jon. Thanks for the recommendation!

  10. Thanks for making my day great, guys! Very encouraging day!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Love seeing this Kelly!

  11. But… But.. I am a fan of the Backstreet boys!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      And there is help for that 🙂

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