The Greatest Lessons on Success Teach You How to Deal with Failure
Lessons from history’s most successful failures.
Failure and success aren’t opposites — they’re parts of the same journey. Success is the destination, failure is the path.
School teaches you green checkmarks equal wealth, red crosses mean a lifetime of low wages. Consequently, most men view failure as negative and associate it with insufficient skills and ability.
Whether your crush turns you down like the stereo volume when the neighbors come knocking, your business goes dead-fish belly up, or you fall through a job interview like sand through a sieve — if you failed, you weren’t good enough. This thinking makes you feel like a good-for-nothing and completely misses the point.
When you look at the stories of successful people, you can learn two things. First, there is no success without failure. Second, dealing with the low times in the right way paves the path to the top.
J.K. Rowling — You Can’t Skip Failure
Failure is the first step, success is the second.
You know J.K. Rowling as the bestselling author of Harry Potter, a wildly successful series with over 500 million copies sold in over 80 languages.
In total, the story about the kid who saved the wizarding world from an evil overlord accrued over $20 billion through movie adaptations and sponsorships, making Rowling the first female billionaire author. She’s insanely successful — but it hasn’t always been this way.
When Rowling went to Portugal to focus on her writing, she got pregnant. Instead of giving up on her dreams, she pushed her daughter around in a stroller until she fell asleep, then used the quiet time to conjure up words. But after twelve publishers rejected the book she poured her soul into, she was at her lowest.
“An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless. By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”
Then, her book finally got accepted and sales went through the roof like rockets in a burning firecracker factory. Despite her success, she never forgot about the long, rocky road that took her there. She reflects on her incredible rags-to-riches story:
“I don’t think we talk about failure enough. It would’ve really helped to have someone who had a measure of success come say to me, ‘You will fail. That’s inevitable. It’s what you do with it.’”
This exposes a huge problem in modern society. Instead of accepting messing up as inevitable, we silence and shame it, making everyone who experiences it feel like a failure. You have to understand it’s an inevitable part of the path, especially if you aim high.
When you build a business, not all the risks you take and investments you make will pay off. When you approach an attractive person, some will reject you. When you work on yourself, you will face hard times, challenges, and fall back into old patterns now and then.
This doesn’t mean you’re a failure, just that there is no reward without risk.
Life doesn’t always go as planned. Failure, on some level, is inevitable. It’s what you make of it that counts.
Thomas Edison — Every Failure Is a Step Forward
You think of failures as a setback — but in reality, they move you forward.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the words of Thomas Edison, the famous inventor who facilitated the mass production of light bulbs, bringing brightness to billions of households, and forever changing the face of human settlements.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
It’s easy to get discouraged when you mess up. “I’ve wasted all this time/energy/money.” “I’ll never make it.” “I wish I did things differently.” Instead, you should celebrate.
When I started my coaching business, nobody knew or cared about me, so I tried to grow a YouTube channel. I bought expensive gear and put in hundreds of hours. While I dreamt of thousands of views, all I got was the sound of crickets. By all measures, the endeavor was an utter failure — but was it really?
From Edison’s perspective, I just found a way that didn’t work. So instead of quitting, I turned to Instagram, where I do a lot better. Failure is the harsh teacher pulling you from what doesn’t work and pointing you towards what does.
A failed business doesn’t mean you’ll never make it. A fight in your relationship doesn’t mean it’s doomed. A missed workout doesn’t mean you’re a lazy fuck who’ll always look like an inflated Marshmallow.
You’ve found ways that don’t work, which means you’re smarter than before.
During his life, Edison filed a total of 1,093 patents. We don’t know about the number of failed attempts, but it’s likely to be in the millions. And with every single one, he found another way that didn’t work.
Success is a huge step forward, failure is a small one — so remove the social stigma and celebrate.
John Grisham — You Are Your Biggest Enemy
Your biggest obstacle on the way to success is your ego.
Author John Grisham had his book The Firm rejected by 28 publishers. When the 29th said yes, it spent 47 consecutive weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. But if he hadn’t conquered his ego, he’d still be ringing doorbells of publishing houses with his manuscript in hand.
“When my wife or my agent mark my stuff up, I want to punch them in the nose. But the problem is, usually they’re right.”
— John Grisham
This is what your ego does. It’s so invested in your work, life, and current identity that it often refuses to accept your mistakes. This makes learning, improvement, and success impossible.
It’s the guy who ruins friendships because he refuses to admit his flaws. It’s the ambitious fellow who never makes it past the junior level at his firm because he refuses to learn from the seniors. It’s the man who always stays below his potential because he refuses to let go of the behaviors that keep him there.
Edison would’ve never made the headlines with his lightbulb if he stuck with his first prototype despite the fact it broke after a few minutes of spending dim light.
Yes, it’s hard to admit you messed up, especially in a society that pressures men to always perform, succeed, and be perfect.
But sometimes, the best thing you can do to reach success is to admit that this time, you didn’t.
Michael Jordan — You Don’t Succeed Despite Your Failures, but Because of Them
Failure is temporary, giving up makes it permanent.
Michael Jordan, the six times NBA champion, is one of the most successful basketball players ever. Looking at the mile-long history of his achievements, it’s hard to imagine the guy got cut from his high school team. Yet, if you asked him, it would be exactly these failures that propelled him to the top like a cork let loose underwater.
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 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. And that is why I succeed.”
Failure, after all, is the best teacher. When you detach yourself from the societal judgment and stories that come with it, you can bounce back, improve, and move on. You unlock incredible potential.
The man who can accept failure as inevitable, celebrate finding ways that don’t work as a step forward, and swallow his ego to do things differently — that’s the man who will make it.
If success is your destination, your path will be paved with failures.
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