Learning From Failures

It’s not always about winning. Failures are valuable lessons too.

We have all heard popular phrases that use “winning” as an adjective. Whether it’s a “winning smile,” a “winning personality,” or “winning at life,” there’s no denying that winning is emphasized in our society. We all want to be winners at something, and rarely do we relish the thought of losing. The objective might be a scholarship, a degree, a promotion, or a sporting trophy. As humans, we love to come out on top. But is winning really everything? That’s an important question we all need to ask more often.

In my own life, I have found that failing is not always a bad thing. Our failures are how we learn and grow. Common sense and history show winning isn’t everything. The class valedictorian almost never goes on to have the most successful career among all of the graduates. To understand why we can learn our most valuable lessons from failures, we first have to look a bit more at winning.

Society Loves a Winner
It’s hard not to take notice of how winners are treated in society. Usually there is a hierarchy, or a goal, multiple competitors are trying to reach. Sporting events are far from the only example. As humans, we all seem to compete all the time. It is our nature. As children and teens, we compete for popularity, as well as grades and accolades in school. As adults, we compete for jobs and promotions. Competing to have the best-looking home or the most material objects is common for some of us.

I have felt this and so have you: There’s an immediate mental boost that comes from achieving a goal. It’s part of why we feel good about things like earning a college degree or completing a self-defense course or just crossing an item off our to-do lists. There is a long-term high that comes from considering ourselves winners at life. We all want to be looked at positively while we are still here, and remembered in a positive light after we are gone. So it’s no wonder we place such a high value on winning. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we also need to remember that failing at something is not always bad. Often, our failures teach us some of the best life lessons.

But Obsessing Over Winning is Never Good
Of course, it is nice to win things or to rank highest among our peers. Some of us are able to bask in an occasional win without letting it go to our heads. In such cases, winning is absolutely a positive experience. However, for some of us, winning can turn into a negative obsession. As a society, our obsession with competition has led to more emphasis on winning than is sometimes healthy. An athlete who comes in second place did a phenomenal job, but the second-place finisher is often quickly forgotten. But in many ways that second-place finisher, or even an athlete who finishes dead last, is better off than the winner. That is because failure often leads to more future success.

Much Can Be Gained from Failure

When we fail, it can feel like the world is watching us and viewing us negatively. But, if we accept our failures, in the long run much can be gained from them. What we gain depends on the individual case, but here are some examples:

  • Learning the importance of character traits like humility and integrity
  • Using feedback to change poor habits and create later successes for ourselves
  • Inspiring others to greatness with our own failures

We can use failure as a motivational tool. Often, failure is like staring at an incomplete jigsaw puzzle. It makes us want to find the missing pieces to finally finish what we started. So we work harder and improve upon our skills. That can push us toward improved school grades, better social relationships, or performance at work. It can lead us in entirely new directions that wind up making us more well-rounded members of society.

Personally, I have found that, while failures can lead us to great successes if we learn from our mistakes, too often success can lead to complacency.

Famous Failures Turned Into Successes
Failure can lead to greatness. The paths we take after a failure may not be planned, but that doesn’t mean they are bad or wrong. In fact, many famous people had major failures before they achieved success. Without their willingness to forge ahead and learn from their failures, our world would be quite different today. The light bulb is a prime example. Thomas Edison said it took him ten thousand tries to create a light bulb that worked. Some other famous individuals who learned from failures were:

  • Walt Disney – He got fired from a job for his supposed lack of imagination when he was young.
  • Jerry Greenfield (Co-Founder of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream) – He applied to medical school but was rejected.
  • Oprah Winfrey – She was told she wasn’t fit to be on television.

How to Use Our Failures to Grow
Failure is only bad if nothing is gained from it. That is why, when we fail, we must always use the lessons learned to grow, improve, and adapt. One way to do that is by keeping an open mind. Another is by not obsessing about winning. The more we recognize the importance of failure, the faster our failures can lead us to successes.


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