In Live more simply/ Purpose

Have you failed? Great!

Are you afraid to fail?  If you’re anything like me, you were raised in a culture that frowns upon failure.  Success is what is important and what is celebrated.  Yet, the older I get the more I can see the value in failing.  Let me explain.


Failure is life’s greatest teacher.  Failure can spur us on to better effort and greater breakthroughs.  Failure is not necessarily a measure of inferiority but rather displays a willingness to take risks, to not always play it safe, to be innovative and to improve.

I was watching an interview with Elon Musk on the TV show “60 Minutes”.  It was the interview that inspired this post.   Apart from the fact that Elon Musk is a fellow South African – which right off the bat makes him super interesting 😉 – he is a genuinely fascinating person.  Amongst his accomplishments are Paypal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX  which flies rockets to the international space station for NASA. Seriously?  What kind of person starts a company like that?  The kind that finds it okay to fail.

During the 60 Minutes interview he commented that going into the electric motorcar business, he assumed he would fail.  (He has in fact succeeded enormously, but only after many failures.)  The interviewer asked him why he did it if he thought he was going to fail.  His answer is nothing short of spectacular:

“If something is important enough, you should try – even if the probable outcome is failure”.

Watch the interview here.  It is well worth it.

We all know that it purportedly took Thomas Edison 1,000 tries before he had a prototype for the electric light bulb.  “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” a reporter asked him.  Edison responded, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times.  The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

I recently read an article by a woman whose father asked her and her siblings every day while they were growing up what they failed at that day.  They celebrated their failures.  They saw them as opportunities they took to try something new and to take risks.  Their shame was not in failure but rather in not stretching themselves enough to fail.  This woman is enormously successful today.

Here are some reasons why failure should be embraced and not seen as a measure of inferiority:

  • Failure is inevitable.  At some point in your life you will fail.  The most successful people have. We all do.
  • Failure makes you innovative and gives you resolve to find new and different solutions.
  • You typically learn quicker from failure.
  • If not feared, failure will make you stronger and more determined.
  • Failure makes success all the sweeter.

So, if I may take a line from a very smart father. “ What have you failed at today?”

“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:13-14

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