Failing Forward Again

One of my favorite books is John Maxwell’s Failing Forward.  Truly in life, it is not the successes but the failures and our response to them that shape us.  I have my own stories about how I have failed, dusted myself off and moved on.  It is a humbling experience.  When I was in my junior year at college, I had an upper level economics class with a term paper.  This was the days when word processors were just catching on and I had several graphs to do so I decided to use the good old typewriter to write my paper.  When I received it back from my professor, it read, “A-.  Great paper.  But I think someone interested in pursuing a career on Wall Street or banking should know how to spell the word ‘interest”.”  I had misspelled interest throughout the entire document.  I am so thankful today for spell-checking. 

What follows are some examples of people who failed and got up, dusted themselves off and pressed ahead.  It is also a strong example of how to not listen to the “experts”.

Abraham Lincoln went to war a captain and ended his military career as a private. He then opened a business that failed. As a lawyer in Springfield, he was too impractical and temperamental to be a success. He turned to politics and was defeated in his first try for the legislature, again defeated in his first attempt to be nominated for congress, defeated in his application to be commissioner of the General Land Office, defeated in the senate election of 1854, defeated in his efforts for the vice-presidency in 1856, and defeated in the senate election of 1858.

Winston Churchill repeated a grade during elementary school. He twice failed the entrance exam to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. He was defeated in his first effort to serve in Parliament. He became Prime Minister at the age of 62. He later wrote, "Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never - in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never, Never, Never, Never give up."  Churchill also said, “Success is going from failure to failure with great optimism.”

Albert Einstein did not speak until he was 4-years-old and did not read until he was 7. His parents thought he was "sub-normal," and one of his teachers described him as "mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift forever in foolish dreams." He was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School.  He did eventually learn to speak, read, and even did a little math.

Louis Pasteur was only a mediocre pupil in undergraduate studies and ranked 15th out of 22 students in chemistry. In 1872, Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, wrote that "Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction."

Henry Ford failed and went broke five times before he succeeded.

R. H. Macy failed seven times before his store in New York City finally caught on.

Fred Smith, the founder of Federal Express, received a "C" on his college paper detailing his idea for a reliable overnight delivery service. His professor at Yale told him, "Well, Fred, the concept is interesting and well formed, but in order to earn better than a "C" grade, your ideas also have to be feasible.

F. W. Woolworth was not allowed to wait on customers when he worked in a dry goods store because, his boss said, "he didn't have enough sense."

When Bell Telephone was struggling to get started, its owners offered all their patent rights to Western Union for $100,000. The offer was disdainfully rejected with the pronouncement, "What use could this company to make an electrical toy of this product."

"So we went to Atari and said, 'Hey, we've got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we'll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we'll come work for you.' And they said, 'No.' So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, 'Hey, we don't need you. You haven't got through college yet.'" ~ Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and HP interested in his and Steve Wozniak's personal computer.

Rocket scientist Robert Goddard found his ideas bitterly rejected by his scientific peers on the grounds that rocket propulsion would not work in the rarefied atmosphere of outer space.

An expert said of Vince Lombardi: "He possesses minimal football knowledge and lacks motivation." Lombardi would later write, "It's not whether you get knocked down; it's whether you get back up."

Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball teams. Jordan once observed, "I've failed over and over again in my life. That is why I succeed. I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career, I've lost almost 300 games, 26 times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot ... and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. That is why I succeed."

Tom Landry, Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh, and Jimmy Johnson accounted for 11 of the 19 Super Bowl victories from 1974 to 1993. They also share the distinction of having the worst records of first-season head coaches in NFL history - they didn't win a single game.

Johnny Unitas's first pass in the NFL was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Joe Montana's first pass was also intercepted. And while we're on quarterbacks, during his first season Troy Aikman threw twice as many interceptions (18) as touchdowns (9) . . . oh, and he didn't win a single game.

Oftentimes it is not how we deal with success but how we respond to failure that shapes us.  Will failure master your life, or will you learn from it, rise from the ashes, and press on?