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You Must Fail Before You Succeed

August 28, 2010


No successful person has ever succeeded at every little thing in his life. Everyone’s lives are laced with failures all over the place. Missed goals, passed deadlines, whatever it may be.

The main difference between the way a successful person thinks and the way an unsuccessful person thinks is how they deal with failure.

An unsuccessful person thinks failure means they can’t succeed. Failure defines their lives, and so they deem themselves failures.

A successful person, on the other hand, sees failures as opportunities to grow into their success. Even successful people fail. Why? Because everyone fails. They’re usually called mistakes, but it’s easier to say “fail” than it is to say “make mistakes.”

The problem society has with the word “fail” is not because it has somehow adapted to a word that pretty much means “wow, you suck” (thanks Fail Blog!). It’s because most normal people have gotten F’s on their report cards at some point in their lives. If their parents were anything like mine, they never forgot that F they got on their report cards–because it was branded into their skins!! Okay, maybe not, but I remember I got the beating of two lifetimes!

And even though every other letter in the American grading system (I only assume it’s American because the rest of the world seems to do everything differently than we folks here) stands for absolutely nothing (sorry you 4.0 achievers, A does not mean Amazing), we have somehow been raised to think that F meant failure. As in, “You failed the class. Here, take this application to Burger King while you’re at it.” F’s in school always made us feel terrible. Having to retake the class definitely didn’t make things easier either.

The fact is, failing is nothing bad. Unless you’re a super secret agent spy whose sole mission is to protect my backyard from the rain, then I suppose you’ve failed your mission. But then on the flip side, that failure may show you that perhaps something else may be your calling. Like protecting my computer from being rained upon!

In all seriousness, failure simply tells us to learn a lesson. Granted, some failures are graver than others, but failure simply tells us, “Hey! Doesn’t failure suck? Doesn’t it feel terrible? Don’t you want to rectify the situation?” and you, all pumped up, say, “Yeah!! I don’t want to fail again!! Why did I fail!”

Problem is, not many people actually look back at past failures and say, “Why did that happen?”

Or maybe they do, but they do nothing to change the cause.

This is all too common in relationships, where the girlfriend notifies her boyfriend that he is spending a bit too much time with that study partner of his, who happens to be a girl. Then the boyfriend acknowledges his mistake, and spends less time with that study partner of his, and looks for new study partners… only to get TWO female study partners this time! “I’ll just spend less time with these girls!” he convinces his girlfriend, and she shakes her head, thinking that all boys are dim-witted to the skull.

While writing on relationships is outside the scope of this blog, it’s pretty obvious that the boyfriend was focusing more on the effect than on the cause. Effects don’t make mistakes happen. Causes do. And if you focus more on the mistake than on the cause of the mistake, you’re prone to making other mistakes because there are very few fundamental causes of mistakes. If you manage to master them all (good luck with that! Even Superman couldn’t!) then you can be… Supererman, I guess.

Since everyone can relate to real world examples, especially college examples, because everyone’s pretty much been through or is going through college, I’m gonna use a college example!

Okay, so you remember that class you took where you failed the midterm exam? Either because you didn’t study enough, or because you forgot to put your name on the paper, or you accidentally started on number 2, or skipped number 7, or you’re just such a slow worker that you only finished two problems… out of twenty… whatever the reason was. And for you people with high standards, I’ll define “failing the midterm exam” as “getting a C or less.” Smarty-pants.

When you took the final exam, what did you do? Did you look at your first midterm exam, ensure you could get 100% on it in ten minutes, and then prance into your final exam, bellowing at the top of your lungs, “IMA EAT THIS TEST FOR LUNCH!” If you did, you probably got your ass handed to you in the form of another F (or C, geez) on your final grade.

If you’ve any sense in you, you’d study the material from before and after the first exam, and then you’ll be well-prepped for the final. You’d take practice exams and ensure you can get it done in less than the allotted time, with the correct marks filled out. And your name on the paper. You’d do whatever it takes because you don’t want to fail this final exam! It could cost you… well, another quarter in college. Which costs like, a million dollars nowadays, geez. You end up working all your life to pay for your education, only to realize that when you finally retire, you’re homeless, and with no retirement fund. That’s probably how it’s going to be in the future, what with the way tuition’s going up. But that’s besides the point.

The principle of the matter is that you didn’t waste time memorizing the answers on the first exam so that in the off-chance the final exam were the same as the first exam, you’d be so well prepared, you’d forget to put your name on it again! D’oh! No, you figured out why you didn’t do well on the first exam. If you ran out of time, learn to work faster, and process information faster. And get more sleep so you don’t spend half the time wondering why there are two ‘i’s in “physics” when your eyes are crossing in and out of focus. You figure out what you did wrong prior to the test, and better your study habits. You do whatever it takes! Some would even go to the extent of writing a cheat sheet! Now, I don’t condone this activity if you’re planning on actually using the cheat sheet during the exam when you’re not allowed to, but a cheat sheet for study purposes actually helps you retain information longer. But even if the person cheated, however unethical it may be, he’s still addressing a cause of why he failed the first exam.

“Hm… I didn’t cheat on the first exam… that must be why I failed! I must cheat on the second exam!” are his thoughts.

While that logic may be sound, I can assure you he also didn’t get a speeding ticket on the way to the first exam, does that mean he should go drag racing on the way to the second exam? Actually, I must test this theory.

All we really analyze is cause and effect. And the causes can usually be attributed to a deeper cause. For instance, “why didn’t I study enough/efficiently?” you can ask yourself, and you’ll find that you were too distracted with Facebook. Protip: if your Facebook tab is open, 90% of the time you aren’t getting any work done. (Sidenote: it makes me happy that I can use the word “tab” now and everyone knows what I’m talking about)

So if you find yourself failing two tests, well you can easily attribute it with a single cause. If you find yourself failing tests and falling asleep at work, you probably need to put sleep as a higher priority than “stalking people on Facebook at midnight.”

Mistakes happen. No one’s perfect. People fail. No one’s perfect.

You can either see every mistake as the end of the world. Or you can see every mistake as an opportunity to grow personally. It’s your choice. You can ignore your past mistakes, or figure our why the mistakes happened, and prevent mistakes of a similar nature from happening again.

You’d be surprised how many mistakes are of a similar nature.

If you wanna learn more about failing forward, you can read a book called… wait for it… Failing Forward by John C Maxwell.

I won’t be making a post tomorrow. I hope you guys can handle a day without Blog2Success!

Til next time, stay sharp!


2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 4, 2010 7:28 pm

    You probably want to reword the title, because failure is not a prerequisite of success. There are people who “gets” it at the first attempt. I don’t mean a watered down version of success. Well, there are people who attempt to define success in such a way that if they fail, it does not feel that bad (mind you that these are quotes from famous people). They probably feel better, but it does not address the issue at hand, and have an adverse effect in that you will never learn from your mistakes. The main idea is not to try to think it as “problem-less”, but to think less of the problem. What is the difference you may ask? The difference is if you think that you don’t have a problem, you are not acknowledging that there is a problem. You don’t deny the problem, but you overcome it, take steps to mitigate it, and don’t let it diminish your determination. Like they say, it’s not the venom that kills you, it’s the reaction to the bite.

    Let’s look at it in Islamic perspective. Have you wondered why we are taught to recite certain phrase in our daily activities and in prayers? Just take for instance the phrase سْمِ اللَّـهِ There are a lot of duas that contains that phrase, and we are encourage to recite it before anything we do. You may have listen to this, but it would good time to review this lecture from our respected teacher right in your neighborhood.
    It’s eye opening for a habitual Muslim. Notice the use of the letter “ba” which have 2 connotation. In English it’s translated to “with”, “by”, “in”, etc and you don’t get the implications of the meaning. In Arabic the “ba” is “ba musahaba” and “ba istianaa”. You have to listen to the audio to understand this. I like the part when he mention how the phrase should “peek our curiosity”. What does this has to do with “success”? Well, when you are asking blessing and help from the Creator of all that exists, before you do something, you should give it your best shot.

    For a Muslim either way, failure or success, you are already a winner. Why? Because of this hadith:
    It’s the reaction to the failure that counts. It’s what you express in your heart or verbally that makes the difference. When people refers “problems” as S**T etc, they are probably forget that everything comes from the One and only and indirectly blaming Him for the problem. In fact everyone should have known that there will be problems, especially Muslims, because it is a promise (Surah Al Ankabut 29:2-3). The concept of “Ihsan” is simple, but it’s very deep in meaning. There is a nice lecture about hadith of Jibril:: If we understood the implication of this, we will always looking forward to for the next day. If you know the real implication of ikhlas, you’ll never feel bad if anyone does not appreciate what you do.

    We have also given the mission statement and purpose of life very clearly, point blank. We have to always remember that main mission and not get distracted. All your goals and ambitions should be set with this in mind. At the end of the day, you are not successful if the result is arrogance to the Creator and heedless of the bounties, even though you may feel like you have achieved your goals.

    Love you

    • September 4, 2010 8:33 pm

      Thanks for the comment Abah!
      Failure isn’t exactly a prerequisite of success. But the people who “get it” at their first attempt are few and far in between. If we’re to follow the statement “Nobody’s perfect” then we must also accept that everyone makes mistakes. And that was really the point of this post; not to make people think less of their failures and mistakes, but to encourage people to understand that they must look at the root of their problem that caused the mistake.
      Everyone should give their best shot at whatever they pursue. If at the end you say, “I could have done better,” then it’s more difficult to troubleshoot. You don’t know if bad things happened because you could have done better or if something else caused it.
      But of course, everything you do should stem from a more purposeful goal. You can get rewarded just for eating, as long as your intention is in the right place.
      Love you,

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