21 Important Lessons Learned From Failure

“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never give in. Nothing, great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

Winston Churchill

Everyone fails in life. At one point or another, you’re going to suffer through failure. If you haven’t already experienced some monumental failures, then you just wait and see. I don’t say that because my outlook is pessimistic – it’s the realist in me speaking here.

The problem? Most people associate failure with complete defeat. I know, because I’ve failed countless times over. In fact, at one point, you could have called me a professional failure. I was failing at everything. Marriage. Business. Life in general. And I felt a sense of total and absolute defeat.

But through those failures I learned some important lessons. In fact, before having to suffer through countless failures, one after another, I never realized the importance of failing. I also never realized how some of the most famous people to have ever lived had failed the most times.

Today, I would never take my failures back. I would never unwind the clock and do it all over again. And I would never undo my failures. I can almost assure you that the most successful people in the world wouldn’t do so either. While failure hurts at the time, it’s part of life’s design – a divine chisel.

Growing Through Failure

When we fail, we learn. We grow and mature, achieving new understandings and perspectives on life, love, business, money, relationships, and people. We’re forced to make new connections, bridging gaps where we hadn’t connected the dots before.

Failure is also a part of the genetic makeup of life. Our DNA is the result of endless failures. With each iteration, our genetic fiber has used those failures to evolve. It’s part of natural selection and the grand design of things here on earth.

However, if you’re going through failure right now, you might not find its utility at this moment. I know that wading through failure hurts. In fact, the pain can run so deep, that at times, you question your very existence. But there’s most certainly light at the end of the tunnel – I can guarantee you that.

Throughout my very many failures, I came away with some important lessons, lessons that I wanted to share with all of you. I know how hard it was to move through and past failure. And I know that if you’re going through it right now, literally, I feel for you. Because I  know just how much it hurts.

Still, lessons learned through failure are some of the most invaluable lessons you could possibly garner in life. If failure has shaped you for the better, I would love to hear about it in the comments. Here’s what it’s done for me.

#1 — You realize it isn’t the end of the road

When you fail, and you fail big, it feels like the end of the line. It feels like everything you once hoped for and dreamed for is now completely out of your reach. That takes an emotional toll on you. And it breaks you physically, mentally, and spiritually.

But, what I came to realize was that failure wasn’t the end of the road. Although it hurt more than I would care to describe, failure served me more than it hindered me. It helped to build me up into who I am today. It tends to do that for you.

And, while hindsight is 20/20, the perspective gained from failure is second to none. Most of the time, we’re worried more about the fear of failure rather than the failure itself. What will others think? How will I look in front of my peers? While those are some questions we might ask, failure certainly isn’t the end of the road.

#2 It helps to redefine your priorities in life

Failure will either make you or it will break you. But it can’t make you until it breaks you. That’s the tricky part. No one has experienced a wild sense of success without first failing in a major way. While some have had to endure only a few failures before success, others have endured thousands.

But when you fail, something strange happens. You begin to redefine your priorities in life, reordering the things that matter to you. You look inwards, forcing an inventory of your hopes and your dreams. And you come to realize the things that matter the most to you.

For most, this redefinition of priorities is a crucial step for overcoming failure. You shuffle things around to make room for what’s important. If success is as important to you as you think, then you begin to make the necessary adjustments.

#3 It shapes what you value

It’s funny. Through each successive failure in my life, my values were reshaped. Over time, they completely morphed. What I valued 10 years ago is no longer the same as what I value today. One of the biggest mistakes that people make when trying to succeed, is that they value the wrong things.

When you value the wrong things, success can be fleeting. It’s easier to give up. But, when your values are in order, you can happily succeed rather than succeeding to be happy. So, what does it exactly mean to value the right things?

Whenever we’re focused on taking something from the world or other people, failure is only a moment away. But, when our values change to ones based on contribution, and giving more to the world than we receive, a monumental tectonic shift occurs.

#4 It makes you more compassionate

We all know the power of the mighty ego. Before we fail in a major way, the ego runs your life. You’re more concerned with what people think of you or how much money you spend in the face of others. But when you fail, things change.

Major failure causes the ego to shatter. As a result, you become more compassionate. You become more in touch with your fellow human beings. It forces you to look deeper at things, understanding and caring more about others rather than solely focusing on your self.

The failures in my life served me far more than I could have ever imagined. They made me kinder, gentler, and more caring and giving than I had ever been. Without those failures, I would have been doomed to live a far less compassionate life.

#5 It improves your perspective on finance

Every major failure helps you look at money in a different way. Whether you fail at marriage, business, relationships, or anything else. I know it did for me. You’re forced to improve your perspective on all things money-related.

All of the decisions we make in life have an impact on our bottom line. When we disrespect money and treat it with wonton disregard, it brings the potential for failure closer. When you add things like gambling, alcohol, and other addictions to the mix, it only amplifies your chances for failure.

But through each successive failure, I improved my perspective on money. I learned to respect it and treat with care, rather than spending it with disregard. As long as you can improve through each successive failure, then you’ve created a stronger platform for eventual success and wealth in the future.

#6 You’re forced to revise your approach

In many of the books that I write, I talk about the necessity for creating a plan in order to succeed. But not just creating one plan and never changing it. You have to constantly revise your approach, measuring and adjusting things as you go.

When I failed in the past, I realized that I was doing something wrong. I wasn’t properly planning along the way. If I had planned better, maybe I wouldn’t have failed in such monumental ways. The goals shouldn’t change, but your plan should be constantly evolving.

Take an airplane for example. A plane takes off from LAX, flying to JFK. It plans to arrive 5.5 hours later by traveling at a particular speed, altitude, and direction. But what happens when there are interruptions along the way? Turbulence? Air-traffic congestion? The plane adjusts its plan. It doesn’t change the goal.

#7 You learn who your true friends really are

I learned very quickly who my true friends were after each successive failure. Many people do the same. Failure acts as a “friend filter,” so to speak. When you’re succeeding, everyone wants to be around you. But, when you fail, most of those so called friends up and disappear.

At the time, it feels painful. It feels as if everyone is betraying you. But, true friends love you for who you are, not how successful you are. A true friend doesn’t care about how much money you have in the bank or the kinds of things that you’ve accomplished.

The friends who really cared about me, stuck around. They inspired and motivated me. They were there to uplift me rather than to pull me down. And they said positive things, not focusing on the negative. True friends will be there for you no matter what.

#8 You develop new ways to cope with your emotions

The wild gyrations of success and failure can wreak havoc on your emotions. It’s hard to stay focused and committed when you’re upset and reeling from the pain of failure. Your emotions can be all over the place, up and down like a rollercoaster ride.

Failure was painful for me. It was emotional. Oftentimes, I felt like I couldn’t bear it. But, I came away with some important tools for coping with my emotions. I learned how to refocus and retrain my mind to see positive things rather than the negative ones.

The mind is very much like the lens of a camera – it will see whatever you focus on. When you train your mind to focus on the right things, you can better cope with the emotions that might make their way to the surface.

#9 You look to your faith in a higher power

Whether you believe in God, Allah, Buddha, or just a spiritual oneness that binds us all, failure causes you to look to your higher power. We’re all interconnected beings. There’s a spiritual fiber that runs through us all.

When I failed in a major way, I turned to my higher power. You look to your higher power for inspiration and realize that whatever problems you’re facing, others have faced them before. Whatever failures you’ve suffered, others have suffered them before.

I put my faith in my higher power because I know that all things in life have a purpose. Failure has its purposes, just as success does. It’s what we do in the face of failure that truly helps to define and shape us.

#10 You realize that success isn’t everything

I know, I know. It’s almost a sin to say that, isn’t it? But, when you fail, and you do so in a major way, you come to realize that success isn’t everything. That’s especially true when your values aren’t aligned with your goals.

When I failed at business, marriage, and life in general, I came to realize that success, the way I had defined it, wasn’t everything. This forced me to take a deeper look, and do a deeper diver into who I am and why I do the things that I do.

More importantly, when you value success over everything else, failure tends to rear its ugly head more often. But, when you value happiness and contribution, success becomes almost effortless.

#11 You re-envision your goals

I don’t think that your goals should be changed, even if you fail. It doesn’t matter how lofty your goals might be. What I found through failure was that I had to re-envision my goals, not revise them. I needed to see them clearer in my mind.

If you’ve been following my blog for any amount of time, you know how much I value goal setting. Setting goals the right way is a key factor in your potential for success. I needed to go back and re-envision the goals I had set in my mind.

When you re-envision and take a step back, you gain more perspective. You see things clearer. Then, you can push forward full steam ahead. As long as you don’t give up, you didn’t actually fail. It was just a temporary defeat. A setback, if you will.

#12 You seek out inspiration through others

Failure causes you to seek inspiration through others. Whether it’s through famous people who failed at first, or some other source, you begin to seek out things that will help push you towards your goals. And that’s exactly what I did.

What I came to realize was that many people had failed numerous times before succeeding. I was too hard on myself. So I needed to lighten up and just enjoy the journey rather than focus so hard on the final destination.

If you’ve failed, you too should realize that many others have been through similar, if not worse, failures in the past. Seek and you shall find the inspiration that you’re after.

#13 You learn to better manage your time

I realized, through failure, that I wasn’t an effective manager of my time. But it’s through proper time management that we’re able to succeed. Considering that we all have an equal amount of time in the world, I knew I had to make some changes, and fast.

Since no one person has more time than the other, it’s the great equalizer in life. While everything else might be different, the amount of time we have is the same. What I came to quickly realize was that it was all about what I chose to do with that time that mattered, not how much I thought I had.

I defaulted to the quadrant time management system. I started out by auditing my time for the first two weeks. And categorized everything I did, placing them into one of the four quadrants based on urgency and importance. Then, I assessed the results, and followed the system until it became a habit.

#14  You figure out ways to better plan your day

I was never big into to-do lists back in the proverbial day. I kept things in my mind, always figuring that it was easiest that way. What I didn’t realize was just how distracted and off-tangent I could go without organizing my day with lists. So I realized I needed to create a massive action plan and engage in some daily goal setting.

I don’t go overboard with my lists. I just detail out the things I need to do in the day. First I read my long-term goals. Then I ask myself the following question, “What did I achieve today?” I reflect on that question as if it were the end of the day. Then, at the actual end of the day, I compare the results. Did I achieve my goals for the day? Did I stick to my massive action plan?

So I learned to get organized, in more ways than one. And I learned to plan out my day in order to stay on track with what I wanted to achieve. It’s the small things that count, which you do on a daily basis that lead to eventual success.

#15 You learn to eat the frog 

Mark Twain once said that “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” What he meant is that you should tackle your biggest, most impactful activity first in the day.

This is also known as your most important task (MIT) of the day. What I learned to do after failing enough times was to ensure that I was eating the frog. I even wrote a book called Chasing the Frog, which talks about creating an empowering morning routine to help fulfill our goals.

When you tackle your MITs in the beginning of the day, you build momentum. You also feel more accomplished knowing that you got the big thing out of the way. If you have trouble with procrastination, then eat the frog! Your mind is clearest in the morning, so do it first thing.

#16 You begin to look at obstacles differently

We’re an instant gratification society. We want things and we want them now. We’re somewhat similar to babies and toddlers in that respect. It’s part of the psychology of our mind because we’re born solely with the Id, which is the basal and instinctive part of the mind that acts on the pleasure principle. But that Id-mind is still very prevalent in us as adults.

But, when you fail, you begin to realize that good things don’t come overnight. We can’t have our cake and eat it too. We have to work hard to accomplish our dreams and realize our goals. When I failed so many times over, I began to realize this more and more.

The problem? When goals are new, they’re exciting. But when that newness wears off, the grind becomes far more real. We get bored, complacent, fed up, and we revert back to our old ways. Our goals go out the window. But, when you can override that natural tendency, that’s when the magic really starts to happen. Not overnight, but in time.

#17 You learn not to take ‘no’ for an answer

After a few major failures you come to certain realizations about what people say they want and what they actually want. You learn not to take ‘no’ for an answer. You keep pushing and prodding, no matter what it takes.

Colonel Sanders, the founder of KFC was famously rejected 1,009 times before someone agreed to his franchise chicken model. But he knew, deep down inside, that his product was superior. He harbored the belief that eventually people would start to say yes.

I learned to not take ‘no’ for an answer. I kept at it. And I was persistent. No matter how many times I fell on my face. No matter how many times people laughed at me or talked behind my back.

#18 You become more passionate about your mission

Henry Ford’s first two companies failed. The first one went bankrupt. And the second one he had to walk away from with only the rights to his name after a big dispute. But it was his third try that really sealed the deal. He was so passionate about his mission that he refused to give up.

I learned that it’s a natural progression to become more passionate about your mission the more times you fail. It’s a result of refining the ideas in your mind, solidifying them in thought, making them far more real and concrete.

Often, you become so passionate that you can just about taste success. If you failed, it’s not the end of the road. It’s a new beginning. It’s the chance to pick yourself back up again and try again, but this time with all the knowledge, wisdom, and experience you garnered from the last several tries.

#19 You develop a deeper sense of community

It’s hard to go through failure alone. We generally default to creating a deeper connection with our community. We go to church, temple, or mosques, attending religious gatherings to deepen our connection to others. And seek the help of mentors, looking to others to help us wade through the torment of failure.

Through my failures, I looked to strengthening my bond with people in my community. I reached out. I told them what I was going through. And, you know what? I was surprised at some of the insight that they had to offer.

Our lives might be unique, but the stories tend to repeat themselves over and over again. And those stories exist in other people’s lives as well. Through their experience, I was able to overcome some of my worst failures. And so can you.

#20 You recognize your bad habits

When you fail, you destroy a part of your ego. Depending on how monumental that failure was, you lose either a major chunk or a small piece of your precious ego. Once that ego is shattered as a result of failure, you begin to recognize your bad habits.

Bad habits get in the way of your failure. In fact, bad habits can all but ruin our chances for success in anything. And I literally mean anything. Part of my failures were the results of bad habits that were ingrained in me for years and years.

But you learn to recognize those bad habits. And when success means enough to you, you begin to change. You slowly modify your behavior over time to help rid yourself of any bad habit that was holding you back from success.

#21 – You learn to never give up

I know. I know. It’s the proverbial cliche, “Never give up.” But, while it sounds mundane and over-repeated, it’s entirely true. When you harbor deep enough meanings for succeeding, you learn to never give up, no matter what the situation.

No matter how many times people laugh at you, walk all over you, or just plain ignore you, you just keep pushing. It doesn’t matter if we only progress just a little bit each day. What matters is that we make some progress at all. We can’t just stop.