Do You Really Fail Forward?

I still remember the disappointment.

It was the first structured basketball team I played for, you know the type where 4th graders are starting to play on a full court with 10 foot rims.  The teams are terrible, yet they are the foundation for athletic discipline.

Well my team was really bad, we were 0-7 heading into our last game and for the first time all season we actually played as a team for the first quarter.  Something amazing happened, we were tied at the end of the first quarter 15-15.  

Then the unthinkable occurred, we scored three points the rest of the game, yes three points.  We finished the season at 0-8 and my little 4th grade confidence was shaken.

I sat on the bench at the end of the game in tears, how does a team only manage three points in three quarters?  Before my parents came down from the stands to console me a referee approached and said to continue practicing for next year.  This was a pivotal moment in my life, I could have dismissed the advice in my youthful shame or taken the challenge to move forward.

I chose to practice daily, work on being a true teammate, and my competitive spirit was born.  Each of the next three seasons was marked with success as the teams I was on went to the championship game every year.  The climax was an undefeated season where we smashed everyone.

The pattern of failing forward has been common in my life.

  • I never graduated high school but have two master's degrees and have taught at two colleges
  • I dropped out of Law School but that experience showed me what I really enjoy in life (surprise: not Law School!)
  • I have overseen numerous marketing projects that did not turn out how I expected but now can routinely set up successful campaigns based on knowing what doesn't work

Those failures in my personal and professional life were catalysts for growth.  I constantly look to better myself and am fueled by a long list of times I did not succeed.  

That is where the question comes in, do you really fail forward?

We can see all of the amazing quotes from giants in their fields:

  • “Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward” ~ John C. Maxwell
  • “Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly” ~ John F. Kennedy
  • “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career.  I’ve lost almost 300 games.  26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.  I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed.” ~ Michael Jordan

Even with all the knowledge from the greats the question remains, do you really fail forward?  Or is that something you think you do when in reality you float by in life, do not take risks for fear of failure, or have never sat down to soberly look at your life and ask if you are where you want to be?

Take some time to honestly look at yourself and ask are you failing forward?  Are you allowing failures to push you to a higher level?  Are you taking chances with a high probability of failure?

To paraphrase Rolf Potts author of the amazing book Vagabonding we should be trying to accomplish something each year that has a high likelihood of failure or else we are not really living.

When you really start to fail forward your entire life will transform.  

For your personal and professional success, take the time to really ask, do you really fail forward?

One of my great joys is helping companies and entrepreneurs learn to fail forward, if you are interested in moving towards your professional goals feel free to reach out.

Matt Avery