After you read that title you might have thought, “WHAT??” Don’t get me wrong, failing at something is no fun. It hurts, it can be humiliating, and it can be demoralizing. But these things all focus on the short run—the now. They do not aptly describe how failure can affect a person in the long run. Failure can mold a person. It can chisel a person’s character in a valuable way.

Henry Ford said it best in his autobiography, My Life and Work, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

This quote has what most people would consider to be a unique view of failure. Instead of viewing the task that was failed as a complete bust or waste of time, Ford looks at failure in a different light. Ford sees a failed outcome as a learning process. This comes from the ability to look at the process leading to the result instead of focusing on just the outcome. Or as Thomas Edison is attributed for stating with regards to trying to invent the light bulb, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work.” What Edison meant by this is that he didn’t view failing time and time again as a waste of time, but simply as a learning process that helped him to discover what not to do in his next attempt at creating a light bulb. Failure was part of the learning process.

Of course, failure is not in and of itself a good thing. But through failure a person begins to find out things about themselves and how they handle adversity. No person is going to be able to live life without failing at something at some point. It could be in your personal life, or in your professional life, or on an athletic field. Failure is simply part of life and as such we all need to learn how to handle it. Failure is even more apparent and will happen more frequently in sports. For example, think about how often a person fails in a sport like baseball. The best hitters in the game still fail more than 6 out of 10 times that they walk up to the plate. The best pitchers in the game still average one base runner allowed per inning. Failure is everywhere in sports. But that can be a good thing. It can point out your weakness and can let you know what needs improvement.

Too often, however, our society is adverse to failure. The common trend among society is to try and “build self-esteem” in children by attempting to have everyone succeed. This is seen by sporting events where score is not kept. Or where everybody gets an award at the end of a camp. Or perhaps everybody is required to play in the game regardless of talent. These things are done to try and help our youth, but all it does is set them up for failure in the future—failure that will be much harder and more devastating because it will be unfamiliar to them and they will not understand how to deal with it.

I know as a kid growing up I failed all the time. Generally my experience with failure came through sports. I didn’t get a hit to win the game. I pitched poorly and gave up a late lead to lose the game. You get the point. But because I dealt with failure, and the pressure associated with opportunities in which failure is a very real possibility, I grew more accustomed with how to deal with it. I truly believe that some of the tough experiences I had growing up when I performed poorly at sports helped develop my character. I know it better prepared me for the pressure and adversity that I would face throughout law school. I watched many of my fellow students wilt under the pressure of finals in law school where your grade for the semester is determined by one test at the end of the year. Many of these individuals had never faced adversity and pressure such as that and were scared to death of the possibility of failure. It’s because many of them avoided failure their entire life by choosing paths that were unlikely to lead to failure. I felt stronger because I know I had faced adversity and dealt with failures. I had been released by the Seattle Mariners—the ultimate failure. It ended my baseball career. At the time, I was certain that it was the worst day of my life, or maybe even the worst week or month of my life. But I know looking back it made me a much tougher person. I had survived and learned from the greatest failure a professional baseball player could have. I know that it helped shape my character and I saw this throughout law school.

So what am I trying to get across in this post? Simply to go after opportunities that arise. Attack the greatest challenges you can find. Don’t worry about failing. There is not a single successful person in this world that didn’t face failure. It is a part of being and becoming a successful person, regardless of whether we are talking about sports or life. Don’t fear failure. If you do, you will never accomplish anything. Look at failure, if it comes your way, which it almost surely will, as a learning experience. Use it to find what you need to work on. Let failure show you what your flaws are or how not to accomplish something. From that failure improve yourself in every way you can and by going through that process, perhaps numerous times, you will become a better, more successful person at all that you do.

Until next time,

Brian Oates