On this Valentine’s Day, let’s forget about the roses, just for a minute. Let’s take a step back from the champagne and put down the chocolates. Amid all this talk about love and relationships, I have a proposition to make: I think it’s about time we settle down and seriously start to court FAILURE.
I know what you’re thinking. On the surface, failure might not be the most eye-catching gem in the jewelry shop. Whether it appears in the form of missing deadlines, flubbing proposal requirements, or running a business model into the ground, failing at something—especially if it’s something that truly matters to you—is the toughest break to take. Failure is not fun to be around, it doesn’t have a lot of flexibility, and it’s incredibly unforgiving. It’s a cruel mistress in its own right, a necessary evil.
Yet failure is something that I deeply respect and hold dear. It’s an experience that I embrace, and more importantly, it’s something that I celebrate at athenahealth. Yes, I celebrate failure—and no, I’m not crazy. At athenahealth, our community of teachers and learners is founded upon the necessary give and take of knowledge, and the belief that learning can only happen in an environment where failure can, and even regularly should happen. It doesn’t take a lot of ambition to coast along the upper echelons, or to year after year hit every vanilla goal you set for yourself. Climbing your way from failing to achieving, on the other hand, requires impressive tenacity, critical thought, and a hell of a learning curve.
Failure, then, is a necessary framework for success. Think of it this way: With every choice that ends up being wrong, you simply find one more way to narrow down what’s right. If you completely wreck a huge project at work, then congratulations! As long as you learned something along the way and take that knowledge with you when you next step up to the plate, then count that failure as a success. Or, more impressively, embrace your missed swing, brush yourself off, and pivot your experience into a whole new direction. Learning from failure is egregiously time-consuming and self-reflective, but incredibly valuable in the journey to success.
Henry Ford once said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” Cull what isn’t working; strengthen what is. This is true of everything, from creating a business from scratch, to taking a leadership role on your team, to achieving your New Year’s goals. Whether or not we like to accept it, failing is as inevitable as breathing, so when something goes amiss, it’s important that you’ve been paying attention along the way. Knowing what doesn’t work is as valuable as knowing what does: Once you can learn from your mistakes and step back up to the plate with the same enthusiasm that you had before, you are guaranteed to succeed, thrive, and lead.
We spend most of our time recognizing and applauding success, without acknowledging the failures and struggles that stand beside it, hand in hand. So on this day of love and admiration, I want to wish failure a happy—and long overdue—Valentine’s Day. It too often gets the short end of the stick, always in the periphery, an unspoken annoyance. Today, let’s fall in love with failure and all of the thorny and meaningful moments that it creates on the road to success. After all, success born from failure is the sweetest success there is.
How would you define your relationship with failure?
“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” — Denis Waitley
People who are successful in life always learn from their mistakes and so-called failures. Michael Korda, editor in chief at Simon Schuster, says, “Never walk away from failure. On the contrary, study it carefully and imaginatively for its hidden assets.” And Bill Gates believes that, “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”
Actor Mickey Rooney believed that, “You always pass failure on your way to success.” Salespeople often talk about “sales ratios,” or the number of rejections they’ll probably get before they make a sale. For example, it may typically take 30 calls to land one new client appointment. Keeping this in mind, good salespeople don’t look at rejections as “failure” but just one step closer to the win.