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7 Ways to Turn Failure Into Success

Learn from the greats in history what it takes to turn a crash-and-burn into a turnaround.

By Daniel R. Castro

Perhaps your professional life isn’t going exactly as planned. Maybe you’ve made a series of bad decisions or even one really bad choice you can’t seem to bounce back from. You may not realize it right now, but you do have options. You could wallow in self-pity, or you can turn your past disappointments into great accomplishments.

How? Just follow the path of the heroes who’ve gone before you. They will show you how to transform past adversity and failures into springboards for success.

Tip No. 1: Look at your past objectively.
Thomas Edison believed there were no such things as mistakes, only “eliminated options” that brought him one step closer to his goal. There is no such thing as failure, he claimed, only lessons to be learned.

Thomas Edison believed there were no such things as mistakes, only “eliminated options” that brought him one step closer to his goal.

Most of us find it difficult to see a failure in an analytical, impartial fashion; many of us were raised to believe that if we failed at something, we were failures. Therefore, as adults, we take failure personally, believing our lack of success indicates a lack of character. Instead, we must look at the situation objectively, as a matter of cause and effect. The fact that we fail in business situations does not mean we are failures, but rather that we didn’t create the right cause to achieve the desired effect.

If you find yourself in a “stuck” emotional state, go back and analyze the steps you took and see what you might have done differently. Logically and dispassionately examine the course you chose and determine why it did not yield the result you wanted. You’ll need to acknowledge what you did that led to the failure and take responsibility for it.

Tip No. 2: Focus on the purpose on the other side of the pain.
Happiness does not come from the elimination of pain, but from the realization of your purpose. Keep reminding yourself why you are doing what you’re doing. Even less lofty purposes can be transformed over time if you look at the higher goal. The key is to look beneath the surface to find the spiritual meaning.

Failure is an attitude, not a place.

To succeed, you’ll need to look at the higher goals you’ve set and determine their importance, then focus on what is meaningful to you, rather than on the mundane aspects or the things you hate about your job. If you develop and focus on a strong enough reason or purpose to keep going, you will succeed at each step you take toward your goal. Without a sense of purpose, you will lack motivation and consciously or subconsciously doom yourself to failure.

Tip No. 3: You can’t see the whole parade from where you stand.
It’s impossible to know if what you are currently experiencing will turn out to be good or bad until enough time has passed. A seemingly hopeless situation may be exactly the disaster you fear, but it may also turn from catastrophe into triumph in ways you are unable to predict.

When you get stuck in “why me?” mode, you require a “mind shift” to recover a sense of belief, hope and inner strength so you can move on. If you can look at others who have overcome adversity, you can gain the courage to believe in your ultimate success. Who do you know or have you heard of who failed in this business, but managed to get back on top?

Soichiro Honda persevered through countless failures and setbacks over four decades before his Honda Motor Company became one of the largest automobile companies in the world. His inspiring story demonstrates the power of perseverance in the face of adversity and the need for innovation and creativity in periods of failure and loss.

When you make a deliberate decision not to give up, then life seems to present opportunities you hadn’t thought of or couldn’t create yourself.

Tip no 4: It’s not whether you have won or lost in the past; it’s the person you have to become to win in the future.
After a business failure has led you to analyze the objective data of your experience, you need to look within and ask, “What kind of person do I need to become to get what I want?”

To become that person, you may need additional education or training; you may need to hire a coach or find a mentor to guide you. Or you may require a character shift—to be reborn, in a sense. Lance Armstrong, for example, had never won the Tour de France before he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Then it looked like his cycling career, and maybe even his life, was over. He fought back hard and won seven Tour de France titles. Today he credits his great cycling success to the person he became as a result of having cancer. He says, “Cancer saved my life.”

Tip No. 5: Accept that falling is a normal part of life, but try to fall forward—in the direction of your goal.
We are continually creating our own destinies through the choices we make and our desire and determination to see them through. How you handle a crisis has a dramatic impact on how you will succeed from that point forward. You can choose to fall in the direction of your next goal, treating the fall as a sort of awkward but valuable step along the path of your life and career. If, instead of dwelling on the circumstances of the past, you can manage to move forward, your fall will send you in the direction of your goals.

Tip No. 6: Retreat does not equal defeat.
A retreat can be a valuable opportunity to regroup and rethink strategies and goals. Don’t let pride keep you stuck in a wrong decision. You need to be willing to change a course of action that isn’t working, no matter how much faith, time and money you may have put into it so far. You need to be willing to abandon a path that is not taking you where you want to go and start over again.

Captain Oliver Hazard Perry is famous for captaining the ship that bore the flag that read, “Don’t give up the ship” during the War of 1812. The little known fact is that he did, in fact, abandon that ship! When 80 percent of his men were dead and his ship was sinking, he paddled a little john-boat over to another ship, took control of it, and soundly defeated the British in the Battle of Lake Erie.

Tip No. 7: Realize that pain and heartache are only labor pains before your birth.
In any painful, frightening situation, you need to realize that there is hope on the other side of the tragedy, even if you can’t see it yet. When you quit, you guarantee that you will not be around to experience that which makes your suffering count for something. Turn your pain into purpose. If you persevere, you will gain wisdom and perspective and finally realize why you went through everything—namely, to become a new person, the person you needed to become to achieve the success you were seeking.

Claim your future success
Many heroes of the past have blazed a trail for us to follow if we really want to overcome tragedies and failures. Remember, just because you may have failed does not mean you are a failure. Failure is an attitude, not a place. Get up and keep crawling, sliding and falling forward in the direction of your dreams. If you follow the hero’s path, eventually you will get there.

Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Daniel Castro, an expert source on overcoming challenges and creating innovative solutions, is author of Critical Choices That Change Lives. It follows the careers of personalities such as Lance Armstrong, Walt Disney and Martin Luther King Jr. as they made the critical decision that turns their tragedies into triumphs. For more information call 800-531-3789 or visit


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