To Err is Human: Why Failure is the Only Way to Succeed

  •    Freelance writer focused on web development, email marketing and baseball. He lives in Los Angeles, but wishes he lived in Tokyo.

Our society is fixated on the idea of prodigies, people who just have some sort of "it" factor that makes them more capable of success than others. That's why you can find a 30 under 30 list for virtually every type of business or creative endeavor. Seriously, just Google the words “30 under 30" and you'll be inundated:

It's easy to think that people who find early success shot directly to the top with nothing slowing them down. In reality, though, they probably just got to their failures at an earlier age than you did.

That's because when it comes to business success, one skill is more important than all others: a willingness to get up and keep trying after you've failed. Everyone fails. Steve Jobs was kicked out of Apple before returning as a hero ten years later. JK Rowling saw Harry Potter rejected more than a dozen times (often rudely) before finding a willing publisher, who still treated her skeptically. They'd never have known real success if they'd simply given up in the face of failure.

It may feel discouraging to think you have to fail before you can succeed, but this is no reason to get down. Why? Because:

You Can't Succeed Until You've Failed

Some people are born very rich. Congrats! This is both lucky and kind of rude, and they may be the only group of people who've managed to succeed without failing along the way.

That doesn't mean your business is going to fail or that you should be cavalier about it. Starting a business is an expensive venture that only the very privileged (see paragraph above) can take for granted. It does mean, however, that some of your marketing attempts are going to fail. That sometimes you're not going to hit sales goals. That sometimes a product is not going to sell as much as you thought it would. That sometimes you're going to lose money.

This is not a sign that you shouldn't be doing it or that you aren't cut out for it. It's simply an education in what to do and not to do. It's experience that will make you all the more capable of succeeding on your next attempt. That's because:

Failure is Not the End

Failure is also not the beginning. Or the middle. Or the anything really. It's just part of the process, a box to check alongside buying a business license and setting up a website.

If you don't launch a failed Facebook Ad campaign, then you'll never land on one that works because you won't have the experience to know what works and what doesn't. Same is true for email marketing, blog posts, and any other part of the business. If you do not have experience with something, then you're going to fail at it a bit before you get the hang of it. Babies have to crawl (and then fall down a lot) before they learn to walk and that sets a nice, easily attainable standard for how we as humans improve throughout our entire lives.

That's why the more you fail, the more you'll see that:

​Failing Gets Easier

James Dyson went through 5,127 prototypes before creating his now famous Dyson vacuum cleaner. He's hardly alone in this “thousands of failures" approach to invention. As Thomas Edison is said to have said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

You may feel embarrassed the first or second or third time you fail. Maybe an advertising promotion didn't bring in the sales you were expecting. Or a new product isn't as popular as you thought it'd be.

The more you fail, the more you'll see there's nothing to be embarrassed about, since you'll also have more and more successes that will punctuate those failures as you go. The only way you're guaranteed to not succeed with your business is if you don't take any risks or try anything new that could (and will) lead to some amount of failure. Fear of failure is the number one way to avoid success. That's why you should:

​Be Proud of Your Failures

Everyone makes mistakes. Even George Clooney. Especially George Clooney. He started acting in 1978. ER didn't go on the air until 1994. It took 16 years of often frustrating obscurity before he hit it big.

Embrace your failures. Own them. Examine them. Talk about them. Failures are an education that no university in the world can provide. The more you learn and build on your failures, the higher you'll be able to go with your successes.