Elles Droppers

Failure: a step to success

Imagine if failure didn’t exist and that every mistake allowed you to grow. If this was the case, would it change the way in which you deal with life’s obstacles? Failures can help you to overcome new challenges. This is what a growth mindset is all about. It starts with the idea that our intelligence and skills are undefined, but that these can develop through effort and learning. It invites us to push our limits to discover that we can do much more than we thought.

The process of becoming better at something often revolves around numerous minor failures. Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, once said: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” His quote suggests that failure helped him to learn, to grow and to ultimately succeed. Failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success. Losers quit when they fail. Winners fail until they succeed.

Each stage of our life brings challenges, new insights and opportunities for growth. For example, think about a small child who is learning to walk. He will fall over hundreds of times and hurt himself in the process. Even so, this child will never stop for a moment and think: “Gosh, I don’t think that walking is really for me. I’m obviously not that good at it...” We actually only teach ourselves to avoid failure later in life. While it is sometimes useful to continue to guard ourselves against the same pitfalls, steering clear of them may also prevent us from taking the necessary steps.

In a world that never stops, the only real constant is change. And change often only becomes possible when we make mistakes or things go wrong. Because clinging to certainty can be the enemy of growth. Instead of trying to follow a certain path, it is sometimes wiser to seek doubt. This means that you should feel free to doubt your own beliefs and to follow that uncertain alternate path.

One belief that limited me was that I thought that I was no good at presenting. And if you think something often enough, you’ll automatically start to believe it. As a consequence, I learned entire presentations off by heart so that I wouldn’t make mistakes. But you can also confront the failure that you fear. That’s why I turned to my colleague Jorn, who is able to confidently address entire groups of people. He said, “The reason that I’m able to enjoy a situation when it becomes tense is because I’m actually able to learn something from it.” It was these words that inspired me to think differently. During my final presentation for Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), I rose to the challenge, stepped out of my comfort zone and abandoned my text. I dared to be vulnerable, explained in all honesty that it was quite a tense experience for me and I was rewarded with a standing ovation. 

Because is it actually the change itself that is difficult? Or is the discomfort caused more by the uncertainty about new things? Is it the voice in your head that’s telling you that you can’t do something well enough? Is it the fear of failure and rejection? Change can be painful, but nothing is more painful than depriving yourself of things because you don’t have the courage to do something. 

Leading businesswoman Sara Blakely once shared a powerful anecdote about how her father influenced her perception of failure. When she was a child, he asked her the same question each week: “What did you fail in this week?” Her enthusiastic response was received with great pride, and her father would consequently ask her what she had learned from her experience. Failure is not about the outcome; it’s about not trying. Try and fail, but don’t fail to try!

A growth mindset provides a solid foundation for lifelong learning. It is the art of discovery, the art of learning and the development of new skills through trial and error. It is the fuel for your dreams and desires. It increases your potential and gives you the courage to face challenges with confidence. So that failure doesn’t become your final word, but an indispensable chapter in your success story!

Written by
E. Droppers (Elles)
E. Droppers (Elles)
Elles Droppers is Senior Marketing Communication Specialist at Radboud Academy