How to Fail Your Way to Success

Are you mired in the muck of life? Do you feel that it's hopeless? You've made too many mistakes. You've fallen flat on your face again. You feel like people are laughing at you, and saying you'll never make it. Congratulations! You're halfway on your way to learning the secret of success.

Want to know the secret of success? Learn how to fail. It's not a glib remark; it's the truth. Years ago Thomas J. Watson, founder of IBM, said "To be successful you must double your rate of failure." And Andrew Carnegie said that every failure carries with it the seeds of an equivalent or greater success.

So part of learning how to fail your way to success is being willing to try and risk failure. If you've failed, then you've already succeeded at this. The other part is learning from your mistake.

Of course, nobody likes to fail --least of all, me. I don't enjoy being laughed at, or looking silly any more than you do. I have this fear that people won't take me seriously if they find out (God forbid!) that I've blown it a few times.

We could all learn from the innocent wisdom of babies.

When we were babies, we failed all the time and thought nothing of it. When we were learning to walk, we got up, we fell down. We got up, we fell down. And our parents praised us for trying, so we kept on trying and eventually we learned to walk, and run, and jump, and dance. We failed our way to success. We kept our eye on the goal and we were willing to go through the failures to reach it.

How did we lose that baby wisdom? Life, of course. We did something dumb, and our friends laughed at us, or someone told us we were stupid. We went to school, where students are penalized for making mistakes, and teamwork is called cheating. We got it into our heads that mistakes are BAD, and we learned to avoid them at all costs. We learned to "play it safe," even if it meant missing out on opportunities.

But the truth is, there is no safe position in life. Do you know that? You've got to die to leave here! So let's forget about playing it safe, and be willing to take some chances.

In his book Retire Young, Retire Rich, author Robert Kiyosaki says his "rich dad" told him, "Losers are people who think that losing is bad. But a winning strategy is one that includes losing." Kiyosaki says winners are people who think in terms of risk-reward, rather than win-lose. For example, direct mail marketers know that 98 percent of the mailings they send out will not generate a sale. So using that information, they plan their marketing campaigns on a 2 percent ratio. They know the 2 percent return must cover the cost of mailing to the 98 percent that don't reply. And many direct mail marketers have become rich using a strategy that loses 98% of the time!

One of my favorite examples of the all-time losing winner is Thomas Edison, our most famous inventor. Edison failed ten thousand times before successfully inventing the incandescent light bulb. I love his response to people who chided him for failing: "I didn't fail; I just found ten thousand ways that didn't work."

Most of us would give up before we failed ten times, let alone ten thousand. That is why Edison stands out in the crowd. He was willing to fail his way to success.

Doesn't it seem that most of us feel we are the only ones who make mistakes? In our hearts we know it's not true. We all make mistakes. Some people are just better at hiding their failures than others. I was never one of those.

Do you remember when the press discovered that Vanna White (from the gameshow Wheel of Fortune) had posed nude, before she became successful? She tried to stop the printing with a lawsuit, but all she did was inspire an onslaught of the curious, who bought the very magazine she tried to hide.

I like the way Madonna handled it when the same situation happened to her. The press came to her and said that some magazine had pictures of her posing nude. She said, "So what?" I like that attitude. She shut them all up by acknowledging it without fanfare.

If you think about it, it's the ultimate egotism to pretend we don't make mistakes. Besides, we are usually only fooling ourselves when we try to pull it off. And then we don't get to learn the lesson because we're too busy pretending there isn't one.

Personally, I've made a lot of mistakes in my life --in business, in love, in raising my kids. I expect I'll make many more. But that doesn't mean I intend to give up on being a mother, or being successful, or having a happy love life. I intend to keep my eye on the prize and fail my way to success. I intend to acknowledge my mistakes, learn from them, and move on, without becoming bitter or cynical. If it didn't work this time, it may the next time, or the next. After all, I haven't reached the ten thousand mark yet.

How about you? I remember one glorious failed attempt, when I landed once again splat! in the mud. My friend Lalitha, wise Indian sage that she is, told me the story of the lotus. It seems that the lotus is a flower that reaches its fullness in the mud. No hot-house beauty this, the lotus actually thrives among the muck and the garbage. When it matures, it is plucked out and placed in cool, clear water, where it ultimately belongs. It has finally reached the top, but it got there by taking from the muck and the mud without becoming a part of it.

Take a tip from the lotus, and from me. The muck is a fertile place to learn and grow. If you find yourself there, take advantage of the opportunity, and learn to fail your way to success.

Mindy L. Hitchcock