The Upside of Failing

Take a look through history and you’ll find that the most successful people failed numerous times before eventually finding success.

It took Thomas Edison 10,000 attempts to perfect the light bulb; JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected by 12 major publications before it was published, and Michael Jordan missed the game-winning shot on twenty-six occasions.

Failure is inevitable. It is not a step back but a stepping-stone to success.

What, then is failure?

Based on our experiences, our definition of failure may vary.

At its core, failure is a lack of success and the inability to perform as expected.

Every failure teaches us life lessons that we may never learn from the world’s best institutions. Failure pushes us to prioritise what we would normally neglect. Failure allows us to face our fears in a way we would not have been able to before. If we never fail, we have undoubtedly missed out on opportunities to learn and grow.

In a recent IgniteHer masterclass on the topic of failure, we shared key insights on failing forward from best-selling author and leadership expert, John Maxwell. Through his work, Maxwell identified seven traits of achievers that allow them to bounce back from failure and keep pushing forward.

John Maxwell’s 7 Principles of Failing Forward:

  • Reject rejection – Persistent achievers do not base their self-worth on how they perform. When they fall short, they learn from their mistakes in judgment rather than identifying themselves as failures.
  • Do not point fingers – When people fail, they frequently feel the urge to place the blame elsewhere. By refusing to accept responsibility for errors, those who play the blame game deprive themselves of the opportunity to learn from their shortcomings and alienate others.
  • See failure as temporary – While achievers perceive any situation as transient, those who personalise failure see a problem as a pit they are locked in forever. One attitude laments defeat, while the other anticipates victory. Achievers can view failure as a brief incident rather than a sign of a lingering epidemic by placing mistakes in context.
  • Set realistic expectations – People will fail if they have unrealistic ambitions. For instance, if a person has not worked out in five years, going to the gym twice a week might be a better goal than participating in the marathon the following month. Everybody fails, so anticipate setbacks and mentally get ready to handle them.
  • Focus on strengths – People who work from positions of strength experience a far lower rate of failure than those who operate from positions of weakness. Focus on your talents and strengths, and work hard to find a path that allows you to do so.
  • Vary approaches to achievement – There are various approaches to achieving success. It is normal to be involved in multiple projects or businesses until you find the one that will propel you to the top. When you fail, it is important to keep trying and adjusting.
  • Bounce back – Focusing on the faults and mishaps over an extended period undermines concentration and self-confidence. Achievers do not dwell on failure; instead, they move forward with perseverance and quickly forget the negative emotions that come with setbacks. Achievers acknowledge that mistakes cannot be changed while pausing to learn from them.


Of course, not every failure will help you in your professional endeavors. Sometimes what appears to be a setback is simply one. So how can you turn bitter lemons into lemonade?

You can include them in your narrative. Telling a convincing, compelling story that highlights your abilities will help you persuade others that you would make an ideal collaborator and partner, and failure stories can help you accomplish just that. When positioned correctly, failure stories can reveal character, highlight leadership abilities, and show determination.

The distinction between a stepping-stone and a stumbling block is in how you approach it. Failure may be both a blessing and a burden. It can be a terrific teacher, making you stronger and keeping you grounded, or it can be your undoing. Your perception of failure shapes your reality.

While each accomplishment propels you forward, failure shapes your career, your personality, and your life.





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