The Importance of Failure

If you scan the biographies of some of the world’s most successful individuals, failure is a common theme.

Oprah Winfrey was fired from one of her early jobs in journalism before she moved into the world of daytime talk shows. Both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates never completed college. And then there’s JK Rowling. It may be hard to imagine now, but Rowling experienced her fair share of failure—and she believes it served her well. In her 2008 commencement address to Harvard University, she speaks to the benefits of failure.

Benefits? Really? In actuality, failure can be pretty productive. Consider…

  • Failure shows you what to fix. When you fail at something, it reveals the weak spot, and helps you zone in on what needs to be fixed. If you persevere and problem-solve, you may find success. According to an article in Forbes magazine, entrepreneurs can’t be afraid to fail, because they know the process of failure is instructive and worthwhile.
  • Failure teaches you about your own resilience and inner strength. When JK Rowling hit “rock bottom” as she calls it, she also realized she had incredible reservoirs of inner strength, and a strong support network of friends. It may sound cliché, but failure shows us what we’re made of. It provides an opportunity for growth, and builds confidence when you work through a rough patch.
  • Failure breeds creativity. When a carefully constructed plan falls apart in front of us, we’re forced to come up with a better plan. Ever heard that expression “necessity is the mother of invention?” Well, likewise, failure forces us to think outside the box.
  • Failure forces you to reprioritize and re-evaluate. Perhaps you failed because you pursued something that wasn’t really in your heart. This can happen when we follow someone else’s plan for us, instead of our own. When you fail, you just might be forced to acknowledge when it’s time to forge a different path. It took Oprah a few jobs to find her niche in journalism. But her failures led her to her comfort zone, and major success.

Nobody enjoys failure. When you experience failure, it’s natural to feel frustrated and disappointed. But what you do with that experience just may breed success. So ultimately? Failure shouldn’t be feared! In Rowling’s speech to the Harvard graduating class of 2008, she had this to say about failure:

Some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

Want to see the rest of JK Rowling’s speech, in which she speaks to the importance of failure? Check it out below:

How about you? Have you experienced failure? What did you learn? What successes have you achieved following an initial disappointment, and how did you achieve it?