Failing Forward

Failing Forward

Turning Mistakes Into Stepping Stones For Success

What’s The Main Difference Between People Who Achieve and People Who Are Average? 

We are all failures—at least, all the best of us are.

What makes achievers excel? W h y do some people skyrocket while others plummet? You know what I’m talking about. You can call it luck, blessing, or the Midas touch—call it whatever you want. But the truth is that some people just seem to achieve incredible things in spite of tremendous difficulties:

They finish in the top 5 percent in nationwide sales for their company after losing key accounts. They find ingenious ways to increase profits for their department in the face of budget cuts. They earn a graduate degree while raising two children as a single parent.

They discover awesome business opportunities while colleagues don’t see any at all. Or they recruit winner after winner into their organization despite what looks like an anemic labor pool. It doesn’t matter what kind of work they do. Wherever they are, they just seem to make things happen.

Certainly, all people like to think of themselves as above average. But achievers seem to leave “average” in the dust— so far behind them that ordinary seems a distant memory.


What makes the difference? Why do some people achieve so much? Is i t . . .

Family background? Having a good family growing up is something to be grateful for, but it’s not a reliable indicator of achievement. High percentages of successful people come from broken homes.

Wealth? No, some of the greatest achievers come from households of average to below-average means. Wealth is no indicator of high achievement, and poverty is no guarantee of low achievement.

Opportunity? You know, opportunity is a peculiar thing. Two people with similar gifts, talents, and resources can look at a situation, and one person will see tremendous opportunity while the other sees nothing. Opportunity is in the eye of the beholder.

High morals? I wish that were the key, but it’s not. I’ve known people with high integrity who achieve little. And I’ve known scoundrels who are high producers. Haven’t you?

The absence of hardship? For every achiever who has avoided tragedy, there’s a Helen Keller who overcame extreme disabilities or a Viktor Frankl who survived absolute horrors. So that’s not it either.

No, none of these things are the key. When it comes right down to it, I know of only one factor that separates those who consistently shine from those who don’t: The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure. Nothing else has the same kind of impact on people’s ability to achieve and to accomplish whatever their minds and hearts desire.


Soccer player Kyle Rote Jr. remarked, “There is no doubt in my mind that there are many ways to be a winner, but there is really only one way to be a loser and that is to fail and not look beyond the failure.” How people see failure and deal with it— whether they possess the ability to look beyond it and keep achieving— impacts every aspect of their lives. Yet that ability seems difficult to acquire. Most people don’t know where to start looking to get it.

There is no doubt in my mind that there are many ways to be a winner, but there is really only one way to be a loser and that is to fail and not look beyond the failure. —KYLE ROTE JR.

Even positive people have a tough time learning how to see failure positively. For example, I’m known to be a very positive person. (My book The Winning Attitude has been in print for more than fifteen years.) But I haven’t always been good at, failing forward. I wasn’t properly prepared for it. It’s certainly. not something they tried to teach me in school. And kids today don’t get it there either. In fact, the school environment often reinforces people’s worst feelings and expectations about failure.

Take a look at some of my previous attitudes toward failure, and see if your experience was similar:

1.1 feared failure. An experience I had in college, along with my response to it, is typical of what many students encounter. On the first day of class when I was a freshman, the professor walked into my history of civilization class and boldly declared, “Half of you in this room will not pass this class.”

What was my first response? Fear! Up to that time, I had never failed a class. And I did not want to start failing all of a sudden. So, the first question I asked myself was, what does the professor want? School became a game that I wanted to win.

I recall that I once memorized eighty-three dates for a test in that class because my teacher believed that if you could cite the dates, you had mastered the material. I got an A on the test, but three days later, I had forgotten all of the information. I managed to avoid the failure I had feared, but I had not really accomplished anything.

2.1 misunderstood failure. What is failure? As a child, I thought it was a percentage. Sixty-nine and lower meant failure. Seventy and above signified success. That thinking didn’t help me. Failure isn’t a percentage or a test. It’s not a single event. It’s a process.

3. I was unprepared for failure. When I graduated from college with my bachelor’s degree, I finished in the top 5 percent of my class. It didn’t mean a thing. I had played the school game successfully, and I had absorbed a lot of information. But I wasn’t at all prepared for what was ahead of me.

I found that out in my first job. As the pastor in a small rural church, I worked very hard that first year. I did everything the people might expect of me and then some. But to be honest, I was as concerned about getting everyone to like me as I was with helping people.

In the type of church I led, each year the people voted to decide whether to allow the leader to keep his job. And many of the leaders I knew over the years loved to brag about the unanimous affirming votes they received from their people.

My expectations were high as I prepared to receive my first unanimous vote. Imagine my surprise when the votes came back 31 yeses, 1 no, and 1 abstention. I was devastated.

After I went home that night, I called my father, who was a veteran pastor, former district superintendent in the denomination, and college president.

“Dad,” I lamented, “I can’t believe it. I worked so hard for those people.

I’ve done everything I can.” I was at the point of tears.

“Somebody actually voted against me and wanted me to leave the church! And an abstention is as good as a no. Should I leave and go to another church?”

To my shock, I heard laughter on the other end of the phone.

“No, son, stay there,” my dad said as he chuckled. “That’s probably the best vote you’ll ever receive.”



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Regards, Coyalita

Behavioral Health Rehabilitative Specialist & Addiction Counselor

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