Do you agree with that statement? Is failure really another word for opportunity, or is that just a means-nothing statement from the eternal optimists of the world?
Whether you agree or think I’m crazy, I truly believe that every failure is an opportunity. Hopefully I can bring you around too. My first case is my post from yesterday, ‘Learning the Hard Way.’ My second pertains to my Junior and Senior years of high school. Junior year I was beat out of the starting shortstop position on my high school baseball team. Rather than working harder, taking more swings in the batting cages, and taking more ground balls off the chest, I shut down. I had a terrible attitude for the rest of the year. I was cancerous to the team. Everything the coaches asked of us was too much for me to give them, and I hated baseball.
The good news is this: sports fields are magic. I did very little maturing during my last two years of high school other than on the baseball field. After my Junior season I decided to make a change. I worked out, ran, took endless cuts in the cage, and took infinitely more ground balls. Essentially, I outworked every other person that could possibly be competing with me for the starting spot at shortstop. And then I changed my attitude. I went from all about me, to all about team. It didn’t matter where I batted in the lineup, it didn’t matter how many innings I played, nothing mattered other than the success of the team. I made it my mission to make it the team’s mission to win the state championship that year. The kicker: once I started caring more about the team, I started playing more innings. Once I started pushing everyone to be better, to work harder, I was considered a leader – without having the title of captain.
We only made it to the semifinals of the state playoffs that year. We lost the best of three series in the third game. Yes we lost, but we made it to the semifinals of the state playoffs. Nobody outside of our team really believed we could do it (at least not that year). We created a winning expectation for Dunwoody Baseball. The next year, they won the state championship.
Implanted in my memory from my senior season is the Coach’s Award I won at the end of the season. It was nothing more than a recognition of my DECISION to change my ATTITUDE and WORK HARD. And it all came out of what was originally a great failure in my junior season. I’ll never forget the pride that I felt when Coach Tom Bass, one of the great men in my life that influenced me in a tremendous way in high school, expressed his pride in me when he gave me that award.
Ok, so maybe you just think I like to brag now and have completely forgotten about the point of that story. Ultimately, failures can make us worse, or we can choose for them to make us better. You can mope and whine and become a cancer to your team (or company, or class, etc), or you can make a conscious decision to learn, grow, and act differently.
Next time you think you’ve failed, take some time to cool off – go work out, play a round of golf, blow some steam off with friends. But once you’ve cooled off, think to yourself about what led to your ‘failure.’ Consider what you can do differently next time. Did you really give it your all, or did you make excuses to avoid the required work? Did this particular failure highlight one of your weaknesses? If so, how can you work to improve upon that weakness?
If you look at every failure as an opportunity to learn about yourself and to grow as a person and leader, every failure becomes a success. Opportunity and success, out of failure? Sounds pretty good to me. But maybe I’m just an eternal optimist.