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A perspective on failure

  • Published
  • By Col. Brent Nikolaus
  • 375th Dental Squadron
There are many things in life that can affect our ability to reach our true potential. One of the greatest is the fear of failure. This fear crosses economic, educational, political, and ethnic boundaries affecting people of all walks of life.

From an early age most of us, by one way or another, learn that "succeeding is good" and "failing is bad." The results of our failures or successes reinforce these concepts. We are often praised or rewarded in some way for our successes and embarrassed or degraded in some way for our failures. Our fear of failure can be debilitating and prevent us from attempting certain jobs or tasks that would be beneficial to ourselves and others. On the other hand, persistence in the midst of failure can lead to success.

History confirms this concept as demonstrated by this historical figure:

He lost his job in 1832, was defeated for state legislature in 1832, failed in business in 1833, was elected to state legislature in 1834, his sweetheart died in 1835, he had nervous breakdown in 1836, was defeated for Speaker in 1838, defeated for nomination for Congress in 1843, was elected to Congress in 1846, lost re-nomination in 1848, was rejected for land officer in 1849, was defeated for U.S. Senate in 1854, defeated for nomination for vice president in 1856, defeated for U.S. Senate again in 1858 and finally elected as 16th President of the United States in 1860. This man was Abraham Lincoln.

Whatever our role in life, we can help to propagate or extinguish this fear of failure . We must create an environment that allows failure, whether it is for our families, our friends, our coworkers or ourselves. Failures can be an opportune time for mentoring, encouraging and learning from the mistakes made. This does not mean that we promote failure, but it does mean that when those inevitable failures do occur in others or ourselves, they need not cripple us. Instead, failures can be some of the greatest learning tools we have. They can inspire us to do things better in the future and often provide the background to make the right decisions and succeed when the stakes are high.

Failure does not mean we cannot eventually succeed. In fact, it is often the avenue for success. As one of our great American inventors, Thomas Edison, said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."