We have been doing it all wrong: why we need to “fail forward”

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failure is not the last word

But we do.  We let a failure decide what happens next.

A few months ago, someone mentioned the phrase, “fail forward” and I had never heard that before and then I found an article written by Mike Maddock for Forbes Magazine using failure as a way to propel us into our next task.  But then I started to wonder more.

No doubt that we have all experienced failure at one point in our lives.  In fact, one of our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln, lost eight elections before being elected our 16th President in 1860.  Thomas Edison is rumored to have failed thousands of times before he was successful in creating the light bulb.  Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.  Walt Disney was fired because he “lacked ideas.” Ever successful author from Stephen King to Dr. Seuss was rejected by publisher after publisher.

I can’t say that I have ever met someone who didn’t enjoy a failure.  It doesn’t matter what it looked like or where it came from…no one prefers to fail. Many people believe that when the they are unsuccessful at something, that it is time to give in.  To walk away.  To be done.  I have done it and so have you.  We have taken that heavy sigh and as we breathed it out, also let go of everything we had fought for.

But why do remember more about a failure than we do about a success?  Is there significance in the number of failures we have in a lifetime or is it more about what we learn from those failures?

What does it mean to “fail forward?”



The purpose of failure is not to give up.  The purpose of failure is to keep going.

When we fail, we come to a crossroads where the next step will decide everything else that follows.  It can be difficult to never give up…to work so hard at something and still not have achieved the wanted success.  Haven’t we all wanted something so badly that the moment we didn’t get it, we were crushed.  Our hearts lay broken on the floor, slippery from our tears?  Haven’t we all felt the humiliation from not doing what we said we would do?  Haven’t we all questioned every single act we took to get us to this point — was it all for nothing?  Just so we could fail?

No one sets out to fail, but failure will define us in more ways than we think.

Failure will:

  • Remind us why we started

  • Hurt and degrade us

  • Test us

  • Humble us

If our failures do not teach us to keep moving, then the failure was not something to remember. The message wasn’t big enough.  The failure has to mean something in order for it have value.

failures are change

When was the last time you failed?  Do you relish those moments or cringe when they happen?  Are you eager to search for the lesson or embarrassed by it?  Do you see the failures or others and use those as lessons for yourself?

When we look at our past failures, each one of us can pick out one or two that defined every decision we made from that point forward.  Our failures are not unique — chances are the experiences are similar but the feelings are the same.  No one picks to fail.  No one wants to be the example or be ridiculed because of a choice made with the best of intentions.

Every time we look defeat straight in the eye and choose to take one more step, that is how we “fail forward.”

Michelle A. Homme 2015 ©


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