Bouncing back from Failure

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The Oxford Dictionary defines failure as lack of success. This is one perspective because failure can also be reframed as a learning opportunity. It is easy to be become despondent and give up after a failure if you only adopt the commonly held view of failure as lack of success. There are numerous examples of people such as leaders and entrepreneurs who have experienced repeated failures in their careers but refused to be crushed by them. 

Thomas Edison is reported to have said, after 10,000 failed attempts to perfect the invention of the electric light bulb, that “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  Edison did not see failure as a single event but as a process. He realised that every failure contained within it the lessons and seeds for success. We all experience failures but how we perceive it and respond to it will determine whether we learn from it or get crushed by it. It takes resilience to recover from setbacks and use them as a platform to build your success. Resilience can be defined as the positive capacity to cope with adversity or failure. It is a form of mental toughness which helps people bounce back from setbacks.

Abraham Lincoln is widely regarded as one of the greatest Presidents of America but he also suffered a lot of failures in his life.  Here are some notable ups and downs in his personal and political life:

1831 – Failed in business
1832 – Defeated for legislature
1833 – Again failed in business
1834 – Elected to legislature
1835 – Sweetheart died
1836 – Had a nervous breakdown
1838 – Defeated for speaker
1840 – Defeated for elector
1843 – Defeated for Congress
1846 – Elected for Congress
1848 – Defeated for Congress
1855 – Defeated for Senate
1856 – Defeated for Vice-President
1858 – Defeated for Senate

It was Lincoln’s resilience that ensured that he was able to bounce back despite such crushing personal and political setbacks. I believe that this helped him become an effective leader as well.

J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, also experienced many setbacks in her life. She said that “it is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all.”Hence if failure is inevitable then your resilience will determine whether it breaks you or makes you.

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One reply on “Bouncing back from Failure”

This post is very encouraging, Prof, thanks.
I used to have horrible panic attacks about failure/setbacks/delays. I’m getting better at handling setbacks now, I work hard to view them as learning experiences.
I also hold very tightly to GOD’s Word in Romans 8.28.
I guess it also helps to be stubborn and passionate about something. In 2 years I’ll have my 3rd degree, and I will be the Speech and Language Therapist I set out to become almost 10 years ago, and I’ll have the international experience and other expertise I didn’t anticipate.
Thank GOD for resilience and focus!

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