Failure can fire up the will to win

It is easy to become dispirited, risk-averse or moribund after failure. The real winners in life, whether they are individuals, teams or businesses, are those that choose to press on regardless.

Failure can fire up the will to win
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Failure is something everyone experiences in life. There are the personal failures, such as not passing an exam, missing selection for a team, not getting a job you would have loved, or being overlooked for a promotion.

Then there are the business failures, such as seeing a pet project, into which you have poured enthusiasm, time, energy and money, come to nothing. This might be due to your misjudgement of one or more of the risks involved, or, as happens so often in farming, the elements simply turning against it.

Failure is common, especially in the life of anyone trying to innovate and achieve ambitious goals. Aristotle is credited with saying that only those who say nothing, do nothing, or are nothing never fail.

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Famous failures
There is no shortage of famous ‘failure stories’. Walt Disney was fired from his newspaper job because he ‘lacked imagination and good ideas’; Winston Churchill was considered a ‘dolt’ by one of his teachers; Soichiro Honda was rejected by the Toyota Motor Corporation when he applied for a job, leaving him jobless until he began making scooters in his garage and eventually founded Honda Motor Company.

The list goes on.

We will all fail sometimes. The difference between the ultimate winners and losers is how we deal with that failure. Or to paraphrase Rudyard Kipling: can you meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same?

Do you lose your confidence and self-esteem, withdraw, and never again risk tackling something in which you cannot be certain of success? Or do you pick yourself up and try again?

Calvin Coolidge, the 30th US president, once said: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Bouncing back
Consider the Springboks. There was that 34-32 shock loss to Japan in the 2015 World Cup. Then, in 2016 they won only four of the 13 matches they played. ‘Worst year in history for Springboks’, screamed the sports page headlines around the world.

And just when things could apparently get no worse, they did. The 2017 Rugby Championship saw the Boks crash to their worst defeat of all time: a 57-0 annihilation by the All Blacks.

What did they do? They picked themselves up and, in spectacular fashion, went on to win the 2019 Rugby World Cup for the third time. They certainly took Calvin Coolidge’s words to heart! Have you got what it takes to bounce back like that?

Peter Hughes is a business and management consultant.