Why Successful People Like to Talk About Their Failures
Our Obsession with Failure We have heard all the clichés about failure. The only failure is not having the courage to try. It is only wasted if we don’t learn the lesson. Failure is the means by which we eliminate things that don’t work on the road to success. Certainly Edison subscribed to the aforementioned theory. He claimed that the 1000 times that he was unsuccessful in inventing the light bulb eliminated those choices and brought him closer to the way that worked. Most successful people would agree with Edison as they tend to see failure as a source of information, a lesson to learn from which will bring them that much closer to the path that will get them to their goal. Sir Edmund Hillary saw his two previous failed attempts to scale Everest as a process of eliminating the routes that wouldn’t work, bringing him to the one that would.
For those who eventually succeed, failure is viewed as a rite of passage, a sort of paying of dues for those who have the tenacity; fortitude and persistence to keep going long after the rest have dropped out of the race. That might explain why lottery winners are not warmly embraced by those who consider that they have rightfully earned their money. The lottery winners have not earned their rite of passage, have not paid their dues to claim their rightful place amongst those who have struggled, failed, pulled themselves up and kept going to the ultimate victory.
Highly successful people seem to be quite fond of trotting out their prior failures whenever they have a public audience. It is almost as if the failures are a badge of honor, the scars of battle, and the price of admission to an exclusive club of those who kept the faith and stayed in the thick of the battle long after the rest left. Have we not all had the urge to rub it in, at least a little, to those who rejected us after we have finally made it? Many highly successful authors were initially rejected by publisher, some of them countless times. The Chicken Soup for the Soul Series was rejected by over 140 publishers. Stephen King threw the manuscript of “Carrie” into the garbage after being rejected by 30 publishers. Fortunately his wife took it out and convinced him to keep trying. “An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” is how one publisher responded to William Goldring’s “Lord of the Flies” which went on to sell 15 million copies. Likewise, business people who have attained a legendary status have their own rejection stories. Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star. According to his editor, he "lacked imagination and had no good ideas."
This notion of having the courage to keep going despite repeated setbacks brings one to a place of great honor is deeply embedded in the American psyche. Theodore Roosevelt who embodied this spirit also wrote the piece that can be considered a call to action, to overcome and go beyond failures and setbacks. “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory or defeat.”
While we are enamored by the success of those who have made it big, we generally don’t spend a great deal of time thinking about their failures and often long and arduous journey prior to achieving the success. Not having taken the time and effort to research the history of those who have achieved greatly many people feel that it may have been luck or fate that bestowed the good fortune upon them. Apart from lottery winners there are very few stories of instant success achieved by people with little effort in their first attempt. Perhaps that is why most successful people feel the need to let us know that it was only after countless tries and frustrations that they were able to navigate their way to the destination. They want to dispel any notion that their success was due to luck by setting the record straight in pointing out the difficult route that lead them there.