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My first job right out of undergrad was in sales–and it was miserable. I hated constantly hearing “no” from people and not really ever finding my niche in the business.
This was clearly not the right career for me, but I remember one of the best sales representatives telling me about the “Law of 10” with sales. She explained that for every 9 people who said no to me, one person would say yes. So in her mind, getting a “no” was always one step closer to making a sale.
There is an ancient Chinese proverb that relates to this that says, “Failure is the mother of success.” When you fail at anything, you’re actually taking a step closer to finding success–and this proverb can be applied to many disciplines in your life.
There are several famous examples of this that make this quote ring true.
Think about Thomas Edison, who reportedly tried (and failed) 10,000 times before finding a way to invent a light bulb. He famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
And there are many other recognizable people who have experienced the idea of this proverb first hand:
Not only are these people among the most respected in their individual industries, but they’ve also succeeded to the point that they’ve become historical icons. Everyone can learn from failure by using them as teachable moments and narrowing down their ideas in order to improve themselves and find out how things really work.
Before we look at how this proverb can impact your personal success, let’s look at what the research says. A 2017 study published in the journal Science found that children who are about 15 months old are likely to become more persistent when attempting to do something if they’ve just witnessed an adult struggling to succeed at a task.
The researchers concluded that there’s value in allowing kids to “see you sweat,” as this shows them that hard work pays off. The children in the study didn't just imitate what the adults did, rather, they faced their own challenge, suggesting they had learned a general lesson about the value of not giving up.
Let’s look at how this proverb can have an impact on your personal success.
Three Ways This Proverb Can Relate to Your Personal Success
1. Don’t Be Ashamed of Failure
Everyone faces struggles in life, but allowing those struggles to define you is detrimental. Why live with a sense of shame because you experienced a failure? Your struggles will easily consume you if you let them. Instead, let them be humbling experiences that can help build you into a tougher person.
Failing makes people feel badly about themselves. They’ve done something wrong in some way when others around them seem to be achieving success. Failure often leads people to give up, assuming that they won’t be able to get the task right.
However, it’s important to understand that if you can do some self-reflection, you can identify the root of your failure and avoid repeating your mistakes in the future. You need to start looking at things from a different perspective when looking for solutions. The more failures you endure, the more likely you are to eventually succeed because you will gain important experience.
Each failure should alter your path just a little, leading you closer to achieving your goals. For experience to be effective, you just have to remember to avoid making the same mistakes twice. Otherwise, you will never improve.
2. Know How to React
Everyone makes mistakes–and it can definitely be hard to admit them. But it’s really not the failure itself that matters, what matters is how you handle it after the fact. You can either move on to Plan B or you can quit. After all, failure is an opportunity to start over more intelligently than you did before.
A lot of people fear failure because it provokes feelings of not being good enough. However, think of the people who are counting on you–your children, your boss, your family, your spouse. These people are depending on you to push through obstacles. If you’re able to see failure as a chance to learn, you can analyze what went wrong and do things differently in the future. In fact, you can even talk openly to the people who are counting on you about your struggles to try to work together to make some progress. You will find success when you get back on track and do things differently.
Failure can be used as a stepping stone if you’re able to move on from the past by not dwelling on your mistakes. Learn from them and build your success upon continuous self-improvement.
3. Accept that Failure Is a Given
It’s irresponsible to think any skill will be perfected and complete knowledge will be obtained on anyone’s first attempt. You can’t avoid failure, and it often happens when you’re least expecting it. Obstacles arise, setbacks occur, and failure is inevitable. But you will not be hurt from failure if you’re able to admit it and consider it as being feedback.
So, accept it, use it as a building block, and move on with your work. Don't just give up because being persistent will ultimately pay off. Success is, of course, more gratifying than failure, but failure always presents an opportunity to learn and better yourself. You have to be flexible when you’re working toward a goal, stay open minded, and change your path as necessary.
Failure is the Mother of Success: Final Thoughts
When we fail, we often feel that other people are not only critiquing our work, but also who we are as a person. When we can’t put our best foot forward, it feels awful at first, but you have to trust that if you give up, you won’t be making any progress in your life.
Remember, you need to get all of your mistakes out of the way in order to be able to enjoy the huge success that can result from them. Step out of your comfort zone and finish the things that you start.
Connie Mathers is a professional editor and freelance writer. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her daughter and two dogs, running, or working at her full-time job as a social worker in Richmond, VA.
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