Well, we all want to be successful, right? Success is most commonly understood as making a lot of money or having a stellar career in business, sports or entertainment. However, success can equally mean being successful at a hobby or learning a new skill, successfully raising great children, being a wonderful spouse, successfully fighting a disease or caring for and supporting others. Success is whatever you want it to be. You define what it is you would like to succeed in.
No matter whether you want to be successful in your career, or in anything else, there is one thing you should always do: Make mistakes and learn from them!
In my last post ‘The One Thing Successful People Never Do‘ I talked about the importance of perseverance in pursuing your dreams and not giving up. I provided many examples of how successful people including Walt Disney, Bill Gates, J.K. Rowling and Steve Jobs failed along their way to success. Many of them failed numerous times before they became successful. For example, Henry Ford went bankrupt with his first attempt to build a car, got sacked from his second venture, before he finally made it in his third attempt. Another example is provided by serial-entrepreneur Richard Branson who has a massive array of failed business ventures to his name including Virgin Cola, Virgin Vie, Virgin Clothes, Virgin Cars, Virgin Brides, Virgin Flowers, among others. What Branson shows is that he never gave up on his overall dream but that he was (and still is) able to admit mistakes (quit the ventures that don’t work) and take away lessons that will make any future ventures more likely to succeed.
Let’s look at the importance of learning from mistakes in a little more detail. We as society usually view mistakes as negative. We are often fearful of making and admitting mistakes because it makes us look weak, vulnerable or stupid. Instead, we should see mistakes as one of the most important stepping-stones to success! Making mistakes should be seen as something positive because it often means we have tried something new or difficult, but didn’t get it quite right the first time round. Oprah Winfrey got fired from a TV job in her early career because she was seen as ‘unfit for television’ and Walt Disney got fired for ‘not being creative enough’! They had a choice: Give up on their pursuit of success or persevere and learn from their mistakes.
But even more fundamentally: mistakes help us learn anything. Without mistakes there would be no progress and no success. We all know that when babies first learn to walk they will fall over many times and make many missteps. Learning from these experiences helps them to eventually balance properly and walk. We all make mistakes, some bigger and some smaller, and they help us to learn. The problem is that we often put ourselves down for making mistakes. We feel stupid and embarrassed, especially when the mistakes were big. However, the bigger our mistakes the more memorable they are for us, which in turn means that the learning from them is also bigger. I am sure you are like me and remember many embarrassing mistakes we have made throughout life and because they were embarrassing we will always remember them vividly. This also means that they have taught us memorable lessons that will prevent us from making the same or similar mistakes again.
I believe that we have to change our attitudes to mistakes so that mistakes become something we no longer are ashamed of. Instead, we should encourage people to make mistakes and admit mistakes. Especially in business we seem to view mistakes as something very negative. Companies want to see clean-cut CVs that don’t mention any mistakes or missteps and bosses often punish or ridicule employees for making or admitting mistakes. I like and respect people that show they have made mistakes. It tells me that they have tried and hopefully taken away valuable lessons that ensure they never make the same mistake again.
In my job of helping executive teams improve the performance of their businesses I see many different leadership styles. I have to say that the best leaders are those that allow employees to make mistakes. They take away the fear of admitting mistakes and instead give people support so they can take risks and learn from mistakes. I find that the same also applies to good coaches, good parents, good teachers, etc. They all understand that everyone makes mistakes and that it is best to create an environment in which it is safe to make and admit them.
Of course, it is not acceptable to make the same mistakes all over. Successful people are not afraid of making mistakes but they don’t make the same mistake twice. Take Thomas Edison’s attitude to mistakes during his quest to develop the light bulb: “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. It is exactly this attitude and his ability to learn from mistakes that enabled him to eventually succeed. Edison also said “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
So the overall lessons here are: Be comfortable making mistakes in your pursuit of success. Don’t be ashamed or put yourself down for making mistakes, but be sure you learn from them and you don’t repeat them! And, of course, never give up pursuing your dream (even if it means changing direction a few times along the way)!