Learning From Failure

In the second grade, once a week, our teacher Mrs. Wagoner would walk over to my desk and tap her pencil lightly on top to get my attention. It meant it was time to go to a special class in a small room in another part of the school. I remember the walk toward the office, down the narrow concrete sidewalk that snaked alongside the classrooms with huge windows facing out. I could always see the students curiously peering out through the glass to see who was headed to “the office”. I’m sure they assumed I was in trouble and about to receive some sort of punishment. Instead, I knew I was being singled out for another reason. My twin sister and I loved to talk, but we struggled with word pronunciations. Our speech challenges came from growing up together and developing our own twin language to communicate. We had severe ear infections when we were babies that caused auditory processing problems, and it probably didn’t help that our Dad chose certain words to play up his Tennessee accent.

Failure is hard.

We spent that year in speech therapy with Mr. Champagn, a white haired, soft spoken man who was always patient with us. However, I still remember the feelings of failure when we didn’t get the words right on the flash cards, or a teacher’s confused face when we failed again to say a word correctly.Failure is hard.

Failure Lab, a company based in Grand Rapids Michigan, focuses solely on eliminating the fear of failure and encouraging intelligent risk taking. I got to attend one of their dynamic workshops during our company’s annual conference, and it really hit home. A great question to ask yourself is: How do you define “failure?”

Sometimes my pronunciation of words create moments of laughter and gentle teasing with our friends and family, but other times I have been fearful of sounding “stupid” or “failing” in making a good impression or being influential. So many times I remember my heart racing, trying to avoid failing to say certain words right. This fear would hold me back from taking risks, reading out loud in large groups, or being bold in meetings. My fear of failing is actually a story I’m telling myself. The “simple truth is – no great success was ever achieved without failure.”

I’m in a new business development role where words are critical to connecting, driving results, meeting new people, and presenting in front of groups. My job requires me to give numerous presentations and conduct a lot of public outreach. Every day there is a chance I will “fail” to say something correctly.

My twin sister and I still struggle with our speech every day, but we also strive to remember that “failing” is just a stepping stone to something bigger and better. Long-term success comes from embracing our failures, not denying them. My twin sister is a TV reporter for CBS. A profession where words are the center of being able to communicate the news and breaking stories every day to millions of people.

My definition of “failure” continues to change. Failing is part of any journey in achieving what you’re passionate about. I know that by putting myself out there, and ignoring those stares from the classroom windows of my youth, I will succeed. There is no other option.

Both of us have to learn to embrace the fact that we will fail again and again, but how we choose to move forward is the key. Denis Waitley says that “Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” 

Think of someone you admire. Fill in the Blank: I really admire _____________. Now how many times do you think they failed? I would bet that the main reason(s) why you admire them is because of their passion and their relentless pursuit of achieving their goals no matter how many times they failed.

You’re going to fail. Accept it. Embrace it. Learn from it. Don’t let the stares from those big windows keep you from doing what you were meant to do, and from being who you were meant to be.


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