Celebrating Failure and Building Resilience

Many cultures have a proverb that goes something like this: “Pick yourself up more times than you fall down.”  When we look at successful people we often see only the success; we don’t realize that behind that success are stories of repeatedly trying, repeatedly failing, and repeatedly getting up again. Inventor Thomas Edison had a great quote about failure and resilience: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” We don’t achieve success without failure and without dusting ourselves off after every failure to keep going and keep trying. 

I have become a big believer in the importance of resilience, because I had to develop it.  When I started my business, I knew it would test my intelligence, my ability to work hard, and my creativity and innovation.  That is why I started it.  I was looking for a challenge that would allow me to live an interesting and unique life.  But I missed out on one ingredient that I would need when evaluating the ride I was embarking on—resilience.  Nothing exposes our human flaws and our emotional, intellectual and physical limits more than trying to build and run a business.  When things go wrong, there is nowhere for us to hide.  Mistakes are made?  Look in the mirror for the person responsible. Things fail? Once again look in the mirror.  Keeping a business going means dusting ourselves off after every failure, learning so that we don’t make the same mistakes again, and then battling on. 

I have come to respect resilience more and more each year because I know the inner strength it takes to get up again after each event that knocks us down, be it personal or professional.  I know how difficult it is not to sink into self-pity, discouragement, self-doubt and pure exhaustion when trying to find a way forward to success.

I thought that after seventeen years of running a business I had built up an impressive amount of resilience.  But when I was watching the Winter Paralympics a few weeks ago, I realized I had nothing compared to these athletes.  They demonstrated the ultimate in resilience.  Life had dealt them some really tough breaks—loss of vision, loss of limbs, paralysis.  Yet there they were, competing fiercely and fearlessly on the world sports stage, at a level of excellence few of us can achieve.  They left me in the dust with their resilience.  I could only watch and admire.

A final word to celebrate failure and resilience, once again from Thomas Edison: “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”