• Babe Ruth, the “Home-run King,” who was also the strike-out king of his time.
• Michael Jordan, who was cut from his high school basketball team.
• WD-40, the fortieth try on a project to develop a water repellent.
• Silly Putty, a gooey but brittle attempt at synthetic rubber.
• Thomas Edison, who invented a thousand ways that light bulbs do not work.
• Thomas Jefferson, who filed for bankruptcy several times.
• Walt Disney, who was once fired from a newspaper for having no imagination or original ideas.
The name recognition enjoyed by each of these people and products, however, is not because of their failures, but in spite of them. While we all have failed—and will continue to fail—the simple difference between a permanent failure and an overriding success is found in the ability to regroup, recover and regain the advantage lost.
Ever stumble while walking up hill? Your feet can’t seem to get enough air beneath them to keep you up in it. You try to regain both your balance and dignity, but you pitch forward, and there’s even less space for rent under your flailing feet. If you’re still more or less vertical, you may find yourself repeating that absurd little dance step until you smack Miss Terra Firma square on the lips.
And as painful or embarrassing as it is for you (and for us to watch!), your fall up the hill—however spectacular or spectacularly silly—is still forward motion that can advance you toward your goal.
Failing with the proper attitude is like that. Most successful people have failed many more times than they have succeeded—which is in fact, a major component of their success.
• Rowland Hussey Macy started and failed in seven different businesses before he founded the famed department store chain in his name.
• Robert Goddard’s schemes were mocked as outrageous and impossible. His experiments failed often, and often explosively. But today, space travel is no longer science fiction, thanks to his pioneering research into rocketry.
• Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard and, with Paul Allen, first failed with a concept called Traf-O-Data. It was their subsequent venture that created a global empire called Microsoft.
• Abraham Lincoln enlisted in the Black Hawk War as a captain and finished it as a private. He lost several elections and failed in business. He suffered from depression and two failed courtships. His young son died, and his wife never recovered emotionally. His other accomplishments have earned him a headstone on Mount Rushmore and enduring honor in American history.
Taking inspiration from such successful failures, here are four simple ways on how to fail uphill (not to be construed as a guarantee of non-embarrassment!)
1. Make sure you’re climbing the right hill. Once while attending a family reunion at a community park, I climbed a very tall, very steep grassy hill under quite a bit of internal pressure, believing that that little structure way at the top was the restroom… Nope. Use a reliable road map.
2. Pack attitude to make altitude. Though you misstep, scrape your shins, and scuff your feet, protect your attitude to enable your altitude. Every struggle makes you stronger. Each step higher brings better perspective. Keep positive eyes on the prize.
3. Conserve momentum. Falling uphill requires scrambling to keep your feet under you to avoid losing high ground you’ve already conquered. If you lock your legs (shut down, drop out, give up) after a stumble, you may find yourself meeting poor Jack and Jill all broken up about it back where you started. Salvage your progress so far. Learn from your missteps.
4. Climb with a partner. Responsible mountain climbers always scale with a buddy who can belay the other, assist in setting the route and pylons, and keep the rope taut while the other takes a breather. In the case of a fall, the partner is also there to prevent it from becoming a fatal failure. Ascend with a trusted companion.
MasterPoint: When I fail, I will fail uphill.