Failure is hands down the greatest teacher of all. Here’s why you should embrace it.
I know a guy who was suspended twice in the same season during his senior year of high school basketball.
That guy is me.
After a teammate and I stormed the refs locker room in a rage to complain about a late call, my coaches suspended me for the first half of the biggest game of the year against our rival Moeller. (They said our league would suspend me at least three games if they didn’t deliver any punishment.)
I took it on the chin and then at the end of that game missed what would have been the game-winning shot at the buzzer—another failure.
A few weeks later, I received a week suspension for putting my teammate into a headlock four hours before the game after he took my phone during shoot around. Plus the coaching staff cited other conduct detrimental to the team in their reasoning for the suspension.
I thought this penalty was way too harsh, but there was nothing I could do about it.
I couldn’t practice or play for an entire week. And then was moved from the starting lineup to the bottom of the depth-chart once the suspension ended. That was not only a heck of a failure but also embarrassing.
My playing time and stats took a major hit. I could never get into a rhythm on the court and build my trust back with the coaches.
We ended up 10-12 as a team. And after scoring 16 points the first game, my minutes plummeted and I ended up averaging 4.3 points per game for the season. Yikes!
I consider that basketball season a major failure in my effort, attitude, and results. And I couldn’t bounce back from that year because it was my last year of competitive athletics.
What I put thousands of hours into to improve my skills on the court, I could never get another season to redeem myself.
Deep inside me I knew I didn’t want to waste another opportunity like I did during my senior year of basketball. I became obsessive about giving college everything I had and staying focused.
That’s what failure taught me: to seize the moment.
My performance skyrocketed as I turned my fate around in college to graduated summa cum laude with a 3.97 GPA and unlimited career options—until I committed to being an entrepreneur.
And this serves a good point. Sometimes you won’t recover from your failures in the current situation, but they will prepare you for your future.
I learned through that final basketball season that failure is not only a part of life, it’s the greatest teacher of all.
Failure Teaches Best
Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose. – Bill Gates
Failure is a great teacher, and I think when you make mistakes and you recover from them and you treat them as valuable learning experiences, then you’ve got something to share. – Steve Harvey
Compare these two quotes and the takeaway is obvious: Failure teaches best and success can’t teach worth a damn.
Why though? Let’s break it down.
I believe failure gets through to us so well because it forces us to change.
To stop failing we know we need to try a different approach to get different results. Be more aggressive or less. Go at a faster pace or slower pace. Read a book to learn something new.
For example, we must build our network if we want to get our dream job and put a stop to interview rejections. We must spend less if we want to have peace about our finances. And we must have the courage to ask the attractive person for a coffee date if we ever want a serious relationship to develop.
This idea that change is necessary to advance applies personally and in business. These three startup case studies highlight how failure can lead to major success once companies take a different approach.
However, the reason short-term success is dangerous is it lies to us and tells us we can stay the same and continue to do well. That’s what Bill Gates is saying in the quote above.
For example, eating unhealthy food in college but staying skinny because you had a fast metabolism tricks you to believe you can eat like crap forever. Though when you get middle-aged and your metabolism slows down, your weight balloons because you didn’t adjust your diet.
And for a business reference, Blockbuster didn’t evolve so Netflix destroyed it. Same with old taxi companies getting bulldozed by Uber. Blockbuster and the taxi companies previous success sabotaged their future right before their eyes.
On the other side of changing and improving your approach is happiness and success. That’s what it takes.
So the reason failure is the greatest teacher, if you allow it to be, is it pounds you over the head with this message to evolve until you get it.
And don’t miss the key phrase if you allow yourself to learn from failure, it’s the best teacher.
If you don’t have the mindset to learn from it, then you’ll fail over and over again, feel like a loser, and be nowhere closer to your goals than when you started.
One of my favorite terms to describe using failure for future success is the term fail forward.
There’s a wrong and a right way to fail.
The wrong way is to feel sorry for yourself and call it quits. This is literally the worst thing you can do for yourself.
That accomplishes nothing for your attitude or your future.
The right way is to fail forward—the best thing you can do for yourself.
Failing forward means even though you didn’t accomplish your goals, you made progress or gained experience. And you brush off your bruises to keep going toward your goal with what you’ve accomplished so far.
A politician who fails forward loses election after election but carries on to eventually become known as one of the greatest presidents of all time. Think about Abe Lincoln’s political journey.
A NFL team fails forward when they lose the Super Bowl but gain confidence they can win it all next year and then become the only team in NFL history to go undefeated. Have you heard of the 1972 Miami Dolphins?
A creative genius fails forward when his newspaper editor told him he, “‘lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” But then he became one of the best businessmen of all time. Do you know Walt Disney’s story?
They’re technically failing, but their failure is the stepping stone to eventual victory. No failure likely means no victory down the road.
Of course if these legends gave up then they’d go down as a loser and have to live with their regret that they didn’t fight on. They’ll have wondered “what if?” for the rest of their life, and it’s all their fault.
Plus, the pain before success is what makes it sweeter once you do win. If everything went straight from 0 to 100 in your life then nothing would taste sweet.
It’d be expected and nothing else. That’s boring. Perfect is lame.
I want struggle. I want the process. And I want to fail forward continually until I climb atop that mountain like a battle-tested warrior with scars on my face.
Too intense? You’re reading the wrong blog.
Like many things in life, failure is all about perspective.
If you become paralyzed and fearful when you fail, then you’ve empowered failure to win over your life.
But if you see failure as a wise teacher and temporary moment that you’re going to surpass, then you empower yourself to be strong and look for the opportunity in this situation.
The better response is obvious. And keeping a positive attitude during failure will completely change your professional and personal life.
You’ll have more energy, patience, and motivation to continue on compared to the fallen person who is moping around in utter defeat.
So next time failure presents itself, think, “Hey, old friend. I’ve seen you before. And I know you can’t get the best of me. I’m only going to become stronger after I overcome you.”
Then go prove it in how you bounce back from this minor defeat!
If you can look at failure with a different set of eyes than most people, you will be happier and more successful than most people. That’s a fact.
Related: Success And Failure Go Hand In Hand
Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions
With 2018 now underway, many of us have turned our attention toward New Year’s resolutions. Some take this more seriously than others, but we can all agree that it’s nice to take a fresh year as an opportunity for self-improvement.
You might have a goal of losing 20 pounds, reading a book every month, spending more time with family, or any number of other things. But the New Year, and the traditions of resolutions, gives you a chance to really focus on how to turn that goal from a hope or a plan into a reality.
We’ve gathered a few nice tips from various pieces on psychology and motivation that will help you succeed and complete your New Year’s resolutions.
Repeat The Resolution Daily
This is a fascinating tip – about as simple as they come and yet one we’d never thought of before (and we’re betting most others haven’t thought of either). It was recommended in an article putting forth six secrets of people who actually keep their New Year’s resolutions, and came from a rabbi named Shlomo Zalman Bregman.
The rabbi believes he was successful with his resolution (which was to engage more with his social media and website users) because each morning he wrote the goal down again.
As he put it, it’s not enough to simply make a mental note or write down a goal at the beginning of the year.
Doing it this way keeps the goal fresh, making it a daily effort as opposed to a vague ideal.
This is another tip from the same article just cited, and comes from a businesswoman names Jennifer Snyder.
Snyder discussed the idea of weekly meetings with other business leaders in which they’d go over weekly goals; she also mentioned the idea of holding herself accountable via quarterly check-ins. These are great ideas for someone with the discipline to hold him or herself accountable – but you could also take the idea of seeking accountability further by allowing others to help you.
Find a family member or friend who will check in with you about your goals, or even try to meet them with you. This way you’ll be accountable not just to yourself whenever you decide to take stock of your progress, but to someone else as well.
Learn Emotional Discipline
We’re borrowing this idea specifically from an article about the psychology of poker players, though it’s certainly more broadly applicable as well. The article discusses the idea of using meditation and breathing exercises (like Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, as it says) to learn how to keep emotion in check.
It’s easy to see how this might help in poker, but the truth is it can benefit you significantly in any experience that induces stress, or even just doubt.
When you’re struggling to reach a goal that’s part of your resolution, or when you think it might be easier to give up, practiced emotional discipline can keep you on track. You can learn to take deep breaths or even try yoga techniques to center yourself, calm your mind, and refocus your energies.
Give Yourself Rewards
A lot of New Year’s resolutions focus on one vague or overarching goal. Thus, it can be a little bit difficult to track progress toward that goal.
However, you should try to do just that, so that you can give yourself little rewards along the way.
One good idea is to focus on rewards that have nothing to do with the actual resolution. So for instance if you’re trying to lose weight, don’t treat yourself to a pizza after you’ve had a productive week. Pizza isn’t a bad idea though if you’re measuring progress toward a goal that has nothing to do with fitness or health.
Otherwise, just focus on something innocent and indulgent that you like, such as buying yourself a massage after a month or so of good progress.
Evaluate Yourself Honestly
This isn’t a complicated idea necessarily, but we actually got it from an article on the psychology of persistence in golf. Specifically the tip was to evaluate your performance honestly so as to improve weaker areas.
It’s easy to imagine this approach with golf, but really it could apply to just about any kind of New Year’s resolution.
For instance, if your goal is to lose weight or follow a healthier diet plan, and you’ve cheated once or twice over the course of the week, don’t block out the fact that you weren’t as diligent as you could have been.
Instead, recognize the issue, evaluate your progress honestly, and try to find ways to avoid similar slip-ups in the future.
How To Set Goals You Can Actually Achieve
A lot people ask me how to set goals. But they should be asking how to set goals and make sure they can achieve them.
Otherwise it’s all for loss. Think about it: a goal set is only meaningful if it’s completed.
Ever hear the phrase “talk is cheap”? It’s often rightfully directed toward people claiming big goals without backing them up. That’s weak sauce. You don’t want to be a part of that group.
What’s going to make you most happy and fulfilled this year is if you clearly define your goals and then work your face off to make them a reality.
That’s the only way. There are no shortcuts that allow you to win without being disciplined, committed, and focused. Sorry, I’m not sorry.
And if we can learn how to set goals you can actually achieve, then we’re onto something big for every consecutive year for the rest of your life. That’s world changing information, if executed properly.
Here’s the two-step-method for how you set goals and make sure you follow through to accomplish them.
Step 1 – Specifically Define Your Goals
There’s no objective to complete if you first don’t know the overall mission. So Step 1 is to clearly define your goals.
Don’t give me any generic, stupid answers like, “I want to be smarter,” “I want to get bigger,” or, “I want to do good at work.” That’s a lazy thought, not a goal.
A good goal is something super specific and numerical that you can hang your hat on every morning and night, knowing the exact task at hand.
I’ll go first to show you what specific goal setting looks like. Here are my three goals for 2018:
- Grow Illumen Media to $250,000 in revenue
- Make $250,000 in personal income
- Work out 4 to 5 times a week
You can read more about my goals in this BrianRobben.com article, but do you see what I mean?
All three of my 2018 goals have numbers attached to them. And by the end of December I’ll have a clear baseline to determine if I succeeded or failed in my mission. There’s no gray area, and you don’t want any.
What are your three goals for this year? You see I have mine in a career, money, and health bucket. I recommend most people do the same. And three is a nice number because it’s not too many to keep track of or too little to make a big difference.
Stop reading this for a second, you can come back to it, and go write down three specific goals. You got this!
Again, just knowing our goals won’t do anything for me or you. Step 2 is what most people don’t complete and that sets them up for total failure.
You must do this next step, or else.
Step 2 – Define How You’ll Achieve Them
You have your goals written down? Excellent.
Here’s where you separate yourself from the pack to help yourself wake up every day and attack your goals, instead of procrastinating like a loser.
For Step 2, you must define how you’re going to achieve your goals.
By that I mean you need to go reflect and consider all of the individual steps or changes in routine needed to complete your goals.
For example, if your goal is to lose 20 pounds this year, don’t leave it at that. Instead have answers for:
- How many times a week am I going to work out?
- Where am I going to work out?
- What time of day? Before work, at lunch, at night?
- With who? A friend? A personal trainer?
- How am I going to meal prep? When am I going to meal prep?
- How am I going to drink more water?
- How do I stay away from emotional eating? Do I get one cheat meal?
- Who is going to hold me accountable besides myself?
- What’s my motivation and reward for accomplishing this goal?
If it helps you, think of Step 1 as the overall mission, and Step 2 as the individual objectives that if accomplished will complete the mission. They go hand in hand.
This works because you give your brain a roadmap to accomplish your goals before you even get started. It also inspires confidence and belief in yourself that you can do these mini-tasks, and if so, you’ll accomplish your main goal.
That’s powerful! Trust me.
Again, I’ll set an example by defining my goals, but this time you’ll see a quick solution with each one of how it’s going to get done:
- Grow Illumen Media to $250,000 in revenue
- Keep doing what we’ve been doing, sign bigger clients with larger retainers, land software deals, increase pricing
- Make $250,000 in personal income
- Make Illumen Media as much money as possible so more comes to me, continue growing my personal brand, invest money into cryptocurrencies and stocks but don’t save much money
- Work out 4 to 5 times a week
- Work out during lunch, when I have the energy, instead of at night when I’m exhausted from a long day of work
Now set aside time to take your list of goals and one by one define how you’re going to complete them. You can do this.
Setting Goals Wrap Up
The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. We can help write that story by setting goals. – Melody Beattie
Going off on Melody’s theme, you get to write your story for 2018 and your entire life’s story. Take advantage of this!
Set ambitious goals. Take crazy action. Be patient. And never give up.
Even if you’re not dealt a perfect hand in life—no one is—it’s all about your mindset and making the most of it every single day.
I’m choosing to chase my goals and write the best life possible for myself.
What do you say? How’s your story going to go? Set goals, accomplish them, and then live in the truth that you’ve done all you could to improve your life. That’s what peace looks like.
Telling Yourself ‘My Life Sucks’? Try Again
If you catch yourself saying, “You know what, my life really sucks right now,” odds are you’re delusional. Life is the greatest gift you’ll ever be given—even with its downsides.
Though I’ll admit there have been times in my life where I could relate to that negative attitude because, as much as I wish I was, I’m not always grateful.
For example, I specifically remember being suspended for a week during my senior year of high school basketball.
It was a little embarrassing. I didn’t get to see my friends on the team at practice or go to any team activities. I wasn’t able to play in games on a team I worked so hard to make. And the suspension relegated me from the starting lineup to the bottom of the roster when I came back—I had to earned the coach’s trust again, so he said.
That felt like the end of the world to an 18-year-old kid. I definitely said, “My life sucks,” a few times during that leave from the team.
When in reality, my actions didn’t make me an angel on that team. My reckless behavior got the best of me with the coaches and contributed to my sucky situation.
Plus, I had no clue how good I had it if getting suspended from a basketball team was the worst thing that happened. Other people my age were struggling with homelessness, hunger, and abuse. Apparently I thought the sun revolved around me.
The takeaway here is life didn’t suck during my basketball crisis, my actions leading up to that suspension and my mindset during the experience were the problems.
If I fixed either of those, I wouldn’t have gotten suspended for one, and I would have saved a ton of wasted energy and stress.
Whatever Sucks, You Can Change It
If you were hoping to get some sympathy here—I’m sorry but this is not the blog for you.
Because even if life is supposed to be fair—it’s not—how does complaining about something make it any better? How does that help you recover and move forward?
Exactly, it doesn’t.
Whatever is currently the part of your life that sucks, you can do two things: change your actions and/or have a better attitude.
If your job sucks
Dislike your job? Put in the work to go on a job search to land a better position that’s more aligned with your passion, pays more, or is closer to home. If you’re not qualified or don’t have the experience, bust your butt to improve. For those who stay at a job they hate for an extended amount of time, you have no one to blame but yourself.
An attitude switch would look like self-talk saying, “I know this job isn’t my favorite, but think about the experience and connections I’m getting. Or at least I can pay my bills because of it—some people would gladly switch places with me.” Finding a little good, even if it’s not a dream job, is the goal.
If your social life sucks
Anyone who doesn’t have as many friends and weekend invites as they want is simply not making enough effort. You need to introduce yourself to more strangers and reconnect with old friends. When you increase those introductions, you’ll find things in common and boom—friendship. Or just get a dog and you’ll have a new best friend right then and there. The only one impeding your social life is you.
You can also flip your mindset. I, for one, value quality of friends over quantity of friends. That’s one way to look at it. And the less friends you have can is sometimes good since you won’t be dragged to as many events you’re not interested in. Always consider the positives of a situation.
If your money situation sucks
Getting your money right comes down to thousands of small decisions that add up. If you’re in a bad place financially, I’m willing to bet you’re not saving enough, paying down debt, and investing extra money left over. It all comes down to your daily money decisions. Besides saving more, you need to seriously start reading about personal finance. Knowledge is not only power, it’s wealth.
If you have a bed to sleep on, food to eat, and clothes to warm yourself every single day, just remember that millions of people across the world are worse off than you. Consider people in rural Africa, Asia, and India, or the homeless in your city, to stop feeling sorry for yourself. And watch this video to feel rich when you’re broke.
If your romantic life sucks
Look at your actions first. Try meeting guys/girls at different locations than you usually do if you’re striking out. Ask one of the friends you trust to set you up. Experiment dating a guy/girl who isn’t normally your type. The key is different activity to get a different and better result: a parter you trust and love.
As for mindset, it’s key to understand the goal shouldn’t be to date for the heck of it, but to understand yourself and date the right person who makes you happy. Realize also that there isn’t just one guy or girl out there for you—but thousands of people find you interesting. Be confident in who you are and have faith you’ll meet the right person.
If your living location sucks
Like I’ve heard the saying before, “You’re not a tree, you can move anytime.” There are plenty of ways to improve your location. Go on a job search for a position in your favorite city. Save up money to make the big move if that’s the problem. Or stay put and travel more often to limit the amount of weekends you spend at home.
Maybe it’s best to stay put and change your attitude. Consider the idea that living at home, or in some particular city, is the best financial move in this season of your life. Think about how this process of building up your financial resources, before you can move to your favorite city, is teaching you patience.
If your family sucks
Finding it tough to build a closer relationship with your parents or siblings? Maybe it’s you. Try giving them the most kindness and patience you can muster. At least you’ll feel good knowing you made a serious effort to love on them better. And when you have your own family you can fill it with so much love that your kid always feels known and cared for.
As for attitude, you need to realize that you don’t get to pick your family. But be thankful your dad and mom conceived you, at the very least, you know? Without them, there’s no you. So they must have done something right.
If your physical body sucks
These actions are obvious. Start eating for energy and hit the gym if you’re tired of looking like a noodle or a slob. No one can improve your body fat except you. Plus, start getting enough sleep and living a healthy life in all aspects to train your mind and body to be discipline around temptation. That’s how you improve your physical appearance.
Mentally, whose body are you comparing yours to? Does your body actually suck? Or is it not perfect according to the media’s impossible standards? Maybe your body is good you just think it’s bad for the wrong reasons.
I hope in each case you saw how life doesn’t suck. You can change it through actions and attitude.
Make The Most Of The Present, You Only Got One Life
“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” – Henry David Thoreau
It’s insanity to worry about the past and unhelpful to get carried away by future anxiety that may never happen.
You’ll be healthier and happier when you focus on doing your best this very moment.
What’s crazy about this world is that the treasure—each moment—is hidden in plain sight. It’s right in front of us every day, just few of us notice.
It’s the air we breathe through our lungs, the ability to open our eyes and see, and the touch when hugging a loved one. Over time we take them for granted when we’d be best off cherishing the special moments of each day.
I’m making a more conscious effort to make the most of my one life, are you going to join me?
And before you click away, skim these two blog posts for a few tips on how to do that:
If you take those two challenges seriously and actually do them, they can change your entire perspective on life.