Tony Robbins has “failed.”
After only two episodes, his TV show that I was so excited about has been canceled—and the premiere was one of NBC’s biggest debut bombs ever. And to add insult to injury, his time slot will be filled by the loathable Guy Fieri and the important Minute to Win It.
But if you’ve read what I’ve written about getting over your fear of failure, then you should know why I put “failed” in quotes. It’s because I look at the whole concept differently than many others, and I think you should, too.
You should be proud of failing
I’m going to suggest something here that might seem strange: You should be proud of your failure. Own it, admit it, brag about it.
Why? Because the fact that you “failed” means you attempted something where you could fail. It’s pretty tough to fail at sitting on the couch, watching TV, or making sure you do whatever everyone else does. (Hint: that’s why everyone does it.)
History’s most prolific failures
People who succeed more than others do so because they’re willing to fail more than others. Because failing is absolutely essential if you want to do anything great. You’ve heard the stories, I’m sure.
- Thomas Edison failed either 1,000 or 10,000 times to invent the light bulb, depending on which source you trust. But he didn’t look at it as failure. Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
- Abraham Lincoln endured a string of political failures and personal tragedies on his way to becoming one of the greatest Presidents ever. (He had some successes mixed in, which many versions of the story leave out, but for me, that only strengthens the message that success and failure go hand in hand.)
- My favorite example is that of Colonel Sanders, of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame. (Forget about Kentucky Fried Cruelty for a second.) Supposedly, Colonel Sanders knocked on 1,009 doors before he finally convinced someone to buy his chicken recipe. Not just failure, but rejection. And every time he got a door slammed in his face, he had to go home and convince himself that the next one would be different. He did just that, and eventually he got what he wanted.
It starts with embracing it
When you can accept failure, embrace it even, it goes from being a big, dark, scary cloud that paralyzes you to becoming a lever you can use. It’s painful, there’s no denying that. What matters is how you use that pain.
If that pain means “I’ll never try again,” that’s no good. Instead, you want that pain to motivate you to try again, this time with additional knowledge experience, in order to make it go away.
It begins with admitting your failures. People walk around keeping their failures a secret from everybody, like they’re something to be embarrassed about.
Get over that. Speak publicly about them, take responsibility for them, and once they’re out there, they don’t seem to matter so much. It’s liberating and empowering.
So here goes nothing: Seven of my biggest failures, in no particular order, some of which I’ve shared before and some of which I haven’t.
- When I was applying for colleges, I thought I was Ivy League material. (I’d had a Yale sweatshirt since I was a little kid and always thought I’d go there.) Of the four or five that I applied to, all thought differently. Worse, I got almost all the rejection letters on the same day when I returned home from vacation to a full mailbox of suck.
- The school I went to instead was Boston College. I spent one semester there and failed to fit in, make friends, or be happy. So I came home for a semester before going back to college.
- I failed five times to qualify for the Boston marathon, and that’s if you only count the marathons that I ran (there were several aborted training programs). The first was the biggest failure of them all, when I missed my goal time by an hour and forty-two minutes.
- I’ve failed every time I’ve tried to quit drinking coffee.
- I failed the first time I tried to go vegetarian.
- I was rejected twice when I asked girls to Homecoming, freshman and sophomore years.
- I was rejected after the only two serious, post-college job interviews I went on (a fact that I’m endlessly thankful for today).
Now it’s your turn
I invite you to share your failures here. Just do it. Even better, share them on your own blog, your Facebook, or your Twitter.
I feel pretty good right now. When you own your failures, I think you will too.