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Why Failure May Be More Valuable Than Success

The morning after a sixteen hour drive from Illinois, my father-in law walked into my office and asked, “Do we learn more from our successes or more from our failures?” My first thought was, “You spent way too much time in the car. You really should find a car game to keep you occupied.”

After giving it a quick thought I assumed we learn more from our successes. After all, most people spend an enormous amount of effort trying to be successful. In fact, those who are highly driven spend an inordinate amount of time beating themselves up for failure.

However, the question he posed was, “Do we learn more from our successes or more from our failures?” In many ways we don’t learn much from our successes at all. Sure, our successes are an affirmation that what we thought was true really was. But while we’re breaking our arm patting ourselves on the back, in the end we really have not learned much. It could be argued that we don’t learn much at all from our successes because there is less chance we’ll try something new that could make us even better in the future.

If that is the case, failure is much more valuable when it comes to learning. American philosopher and educational reformer John Dewey once said, “Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.” The key word in his quote is thinks. We really have two choices when we fail. One, we can beat ourselves up for getting something wrong. Or two, we can dissect our failures to find the real lessons. As with everything in life, it all comes down to choice.

There is no arguing that success is better than failure. People who succeed get promoted. People who succeed get raises in pay and bonuses. People who succeed are admired. We all aspire to be successful, and that should always be the target. After all, people who fail get demoted. People who fail lose their jobs. People who fail are criticized and ridiculed.

No matter how hard we try, we are going to fail from time to time. Let’s commit to learning from our failures. Let’s figure out why it occurred and avoid repeating the failure. Most importantly, let’s spend less time justifying why it happened and more time determining what lessons can be learned.

In the end, failure is only failure when we fail to learn the lessons. In fact, perhaps those we who enjoy great success are simply those who took the time to learn from their failures.

Clint Swindall

© 2016 Clint Swindall — Clint is the president & CEO of Verbalocity, Inc., a personal development company with a focus on leadership enhancement. For information about how he can enhance employee engagement in your organization, please visit, or contact him directly

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