[Success Tweak 1] Want to be successful? Fail a lot.

by Amy on October 2, 2013


“The formula for success is quite simple: double your rate of failure.” – Thomas J Watson, Sr. (Founder of IBM) [tweet that!]

I used to think that if I worked hard enough, looked perfect and behaved selflessly, if I was just nice enough, I’d be a huge success.

Hello. My name is Amy and I am a former approval addict. I still have a very addictive personality. So now I have a new addiction. It’s the addiction to success.

In other words I am addicted to making, chasing and achieving goals. Goals actually are addictive. Did you know that completing tasks actually releases endorphins and dopamine in the brain? Yes, you can really get high off goals.

Some people dabble in the occasional new year’s resolution or two, but many people avoid even saying what they want out loud let alone setting goals.

For women I think some of it has to do with the cultural standard that says we must avoid at all cost being labeled selfish or (gasp) ambitious.

But I think it’s even deeper than that.

Most people are absolutely terrified of failure.

I read a book called Nurture Shock awhile back. There is a whole chapter about the “inverse power of praise.” Apparently, kids who are praised for being smart are less willing to make mistakes. They want to maintain the image of being smart so they avoid risking any type of failure that might expose them as not really smart at all.

Let’s face it, many of us have been brought up to believe that “failure is not an option” when, in reality, it is the only option when it comes to being successful.

Quoting Jeff Olsen in The Slight Edge, “Successful people are simply willing to do what unsuccessful people are not.”

In other words, failure is not a noun, it’s a verb. It’s simply a way to get closer to your goal. In fact, taking action and failing miserably is much better than doing nothing at all. Failing miserably actually provides some good information about how to do it better next time. So by failing miserably you get closer to your target. Doing nothing, on the other hand, is just more wasted time. Time you will never be able to get back.

Failure, has nothing to do with your inborn personality. It doesn’t mean you’re weak, incompetent or mediocre.

Successful people are not better than you, they are just willing to fail (a lot).

I love what Brene Brown said during her most recent talk for TEDx:

“You know what the big secret about TED is? This is like the failure conference. No, it is! You know why this place is amazing? Because very few people here are afraid to fail. And no one who gets on this stage so far that I’ve seen has not failed many many times.”

You want more proof? I pulled a few “failure stories” from the Chicken Soup from the Soul series:

  • Babe Ruth, considered by sports historians to be the greatest athlete of all time and famous for setting the home run record, also holds the record for strikeouts.
  • After Fred Astaire’s first screen test, the memo from the testing director of MGM, dated 1933, said, “Can’t act! Slightly bald! Can dance a little!” Astaire kept that memo over the fireplace in his Beverly Hills home.
  • Margaret Mitchell’s classic Gone with the Wind was turned down by more than twenty-five publishers.
  • Dr. Seuss’ first children’s book, And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, was rejected by twenty-seven publishers. The twenty-eighth publisher, Vanguard press, sold six million copies of the book.
  • Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor for lack of ideas. Disney also went bankrupt several times before he built Disneyland.

So stop making failure an indictment on your personality and start thinking of it as the most important thing you must do to be successful, to reach your goals.

So why not get addicted to success? Here’s how:

  1. Always have a goal that gets you excited! Take a few seconds right now and identify one or two. Don’t think about it too much. Give yourself 30 seconds to write down your top three. Research shows that your answers will be the same as if you had 30 mins or 3 hours.
  2. Write them down. Goals are just ideas flitting around in your mind until you make them official by writing them down. Put them somewhere you can see regularly and look at them a lot.
  3. Make a plan but don’t worry about your plan. People worry too much about making the perfect plan. And they often fail to move forward because of it. So think of it as a jumping off point. Assign some deadlines to your goals and make a list of everything you need to do to reach it.
  4. Do something every day. Just do something! This is where failure comes in. Remember, the wrong decision is better than no decision at all. Learn from each set back and adjust.
  5. Never give up. Make failure mean something good about yourself. Use it as an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate your persistence and courage. If you use failure as a way to build up your confidence instead of knock you down, you won’t have a problem with this one.

Now it’s YOUR turn. Share one of your “failure stories” below and tell us how you used that feedback to get closer to your kind of success.

PSST: I’ll chose one coment at random to win a FREE copy of The Coach Yo’Self Toolkit, 38 pages of my personal coaching secrets so you can learn how to coach yo’self anytime, anywhere (a $57 value!). Bam.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Jean October 3, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Hi Amy and thank you so much for this post. I would never call myself a perfectionist…but i resist exposing my self to the world for fear of failing, falling, letting people down etc. This post is a huge reminder and I will share with my daughter going through transitions that it is only in failing do we learn what we can/cannot do….Thanks for the work you share with the world 🙂 Bravo…I never say that but it just felt appropriate :))


Amy October 3, 2013 at 5:27 pm

Thank you Jean! I heard a story once that the found of Spanx, Sara Blakely, used to talk about how she failed every day as kid during dinner. She said it helped her to see that “failure” is an essential and necessary part of reaching our goals and a cause for celebration. I love this idea. My kids are still too little too understand the word failure but I try to ask them something similar, “what did you try today?” I want them to know that’s it’s not about the result it’s about the journey.


Jennifer Diepstraten October 3, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Hi Amy – Loved your article on failure! My failure story is that I got divorced even though I had a 5 year old son. I also didn’t follow through with a career even though I had spent 5 years learning it in grad school. Not following through on that investment of schooling is part of why my marriage fell apart. The main thing was, I stuck around in my marriage, even though every fiber of my being wanted to run, until I learned something out of that failure. What I learned was… It is up to me to make myself happy and not expect other people to do it by changing to please me, or by changing myself to make others happy. Anyhow, that failure enabled me to become a consistently generous, appreciative, gracious person and I now have the most amazing husband, amazing business that I absolutely love, 2 year old and 11 year old sons, and to top it all off, I have a great relationship with my ex-husband now too. Thanks Amy!


Amy October 3, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Wow! Thank you SO much for sharing that Jennifer! What a journey! I have a similar failure story. I used to expect my husband to be responsible for making me happy. I used to blame him for my having not gone to the grad school I wanted or not having some of the things I wanted. Yuck. Our marriage hit a crisis point and only turned around when I finally realized that it wasn’t his responsibility at all. It was mine. I also learned this when my mother died. She was my number one fan. When I lost her I had to learn to “mother myself.” I am now enjoying a very happy and loving relationship with my husband and learning how to take great care of myself the way a mother would of her babies. Good stuff. Love you girl.


Meagan October 3, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Great article, Amy! Love your writing. My issue with failure is that I would re-live the details of past failures and constantly beat myself up even years later. One day, I realized that I had the power to control my negative emotions by simply changing my thoughts and perspective on the issue. So I would force myself to list the positives that came out of the failure…the lessons I learned. By finding value in the failure, I had no reason to regret that it happened. Very liberating discovery!


Amy October 3, 2013 at 11:26 pm

Thanks for the comment Meagan! I remember the moment I learned that I could actually choose to see things differently. It was one of the most pivotal discoveries of my life because if I choose to see something in a constructive way my results are better every time. Like magic. xxo


Mark Hashizume October 4, 2013 at 1:51 am

Hi Amy,
I LOVE Brene’ Brown and I love anything by Po Bronson including Nurture Shock. I hardily recommend his What Should I Do With My Life? book.

My failure that turned into a success? It was me taking 6 years and 3 schools to get my undergraduate degree. I struggled with getting good grades or even passing ones despite my good academic record in high school. My third school was were I was able to get back on my feet and I graduated summa cum laude (finally!). I felt I was a failure for I could not make good grades despite always studying, that I did not have a clear direction to really focus on, that I could never measure up to my two brothers who went to MIT, and that I was wasting my parents’ money and my time.

From that experience, I went on to an upper tier graduate school right afterwards because I got confidence in myself that I could really accomplish something and from there I secured a good job at a prestigious company.


Amy October 7, 2013 at 11:19 pm

Half the battle is persistence. Thanks for sharing Mark! Great to chat today too 🙂


Leigh October 17, 2013 at 9:23 pm

I found myself saying, “Yes, yes, yes…” all through this article. Thank you. In one of the churches I served, some members of our Christian Education Committee and I decided to try a new approach to Sunday school on a trial basis. We had alerted the congregation of our intentions to give it a whirl and then evaluate it after six weeks. One of the goals was to have parents and their children together in the class and give “homework” for families to use during the week. Two teachers and I (the pastor) would take leadership roles. As it turns out, hardly any parents joined their children in the class plus one woman in the congregation took every opportunity she could to criticize what was being done. She worked in a local store in this small town and would tell anyone who would listen about this awful thing we were attempting to do. It got so bad that one of the woman’s best friends, whose daughter was one of the teachers in the class, said that if the complainer didn’t stop saying negative things about her daughter and the class she was teaching, they were done as friends. Even though I was tempted to pull the plug on the class, especially since one of the teachers was being bad-mouthed in the community, the group decided that we would persevere until the six weeks was up. After six weeks, we agreed that the class as such was a failure — and would have been even if it hadn’t gotten such “bad press” from the complainer. I felt like a failure that I couldn’t protect the one teacher from this woman, her mother’s best friend. And I felt like a failure for even trying something new and different. Add to that the embarrassment I felt that the whole community was being fed a slanted view of what was being attempted that made many good people look foolish and misguided. I learned courage from the young teacher whose reputation was being blackened by her mother’s friend. She refused to stop trying the experiment when I suggested that we might want to consider stopping since this was causing such an uproar in her life. Being a lone ranger most of my life, I learned that like-minded people wield a kind of power even when they fail and it’s called respect. Respect for our group. Respect for ourselves as individuals. And even a backhanded respect from our main opposition. From this I also learned that it is not a weakness to have support from others. This experience was a huge learning for this approval addict.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: