What is the common thread between a young man who was known as “Count no Count” by his neighbors, and a politician who lost a national election, and a young baseball player who was cut from the first team he played on, and a worker who was fired from his job because of his “incompetence,” and an actor who was told, “You ain’t got it, kid” when he was dropped by Columbia and Universal studios?

The common thread is that for each of these, their failure was not final. The young man rejected by his neighbors – William Faulkner – became a Nobel Prize winning novelist. And the politician who lost a national election in his race for senator from Illinois in 1858 – Abraham Lincoln – was elected President of the United States two years later. And the baseball player who was cut from the first team he played on – Ty Cobb – went on to become one of the greatest players ever to play the game. And the worker who was fired for his incompetence – Bernie Marcus – later teamed with Arthur Blank to start a new business they called Home Depot. And the actor who was told, “You ain’t got it” – Harrison Ford – went on to become Harrison Ford!

The reason I included so many different examples was to illustrate the universal scope of the affirmation of this article. No matter what field we enter and no matter what we attempt to do in pursuing our goals within that particular field – no failure need be final.

Brian Tracy, in his best selling book – The 100 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws of Business Success – includes this leadership mantra in what he calls “The Law of Resilience.” He defines it like this: “Leaders bounce back from the inevitable setbacks, disappointments, and temporary failures experienced in the attainment of any worthwhile goal.” [p. 140]

John C. Maxwell, in his book – Your Road Map for Success – says much the same thing. “Never forget that you cannot take the success journey without experiencing failure,” he writes. And then he adds, “In fact, train yourself to think of failures as mileage markers. Each time you fail, you know that you’ve traveled another mile farther on the road to your potential.” [p. 129]

Will we experience failures along the way? Absolutely. Will these failures keep us from achieving ultimate success? Absolutely not – because no failure need be final.

Here are some more quotes that support this affirmation that “no failure need be final.”

“Failure is not a crime. Failure to learn from failure is.” [Citicorp chairman Walter Wriston, quoted in Robert Kriegel and David Brandt. Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers. New York: Warner Books, 1996, p. 98]

“I had lost the biggest race of my life. And yet the sun rose the next day. And the day after that.” [Olympic champion Michael Johnson after he lost the 200 meter race at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Johnson went on to win the Gold Medal in both the 200 meter and the 400 meter race in the 1996 Olympics. Quoted in his book, Slaying the Dragon. New York: Regan Books, 1996, p. 149]

“Now please understand that failure and incompetence are totally different. Failure is trying something that didn’t work. Incompetence is not having the skills to perform the task.”[Larry Taylor. Be An Orange. Houston: Orange Press, 1992, p. 88]

In his classic book — The Greatest Salesman in the World — Og Mandino suggests four words that will make life a richer and more meaningful experience each step of the way. He urges us to train ourselves to say these words so that, whenever any circumstance arises that threatens our well being, these words will carry us through and keep us in balance. These four special words are: “This too shall pass.”[Og Mandino, The Greatest Salesman in the World. Toronto: Bantam Books, 1968, p. 84]

So how should we response to this affirmation that “no failure need be final?”

  • Expect failure – so you won’t be surprised by it – but do not accept it as a final condition.
  • Embrace failure – so you can learn from it – but do not develop a permanent relationship with it.
  • Emerge from your failure – so you can move past it – but do not think you have seen the last of it.