Learning how to fall is a big part of Success

Would you agree with this?

The most important thing in life… is learning how to fall.
~Jeannette Walls

3S 2015 09 Jeannette Walls quote Learning how to fall life

Most of us know that, on our road to Success, we’ve failed more often than we have succeeded. We’ve had to face a lot of pain, but we’ve put up with it for the eventual gain.

When we were learning to walk, we took so many falls that it became natural to us. Babies and toddlers think nothing of falling. But as we grow older, we begin to fear falls, both physical and metaphorical.

From the school yard to the Board Room or in the wide arena of life, failure has a stigma attached to it. But it should not be that way. Anyone who has become an expert at anything, achieved great things, done great deeds or become famous in their professional sphere knows failure is part of success. It is an essential part of success.

Dangerous to shun failure or to never have experienced it

In fact, it is dangerous the shun failure or to never have experienced it. Children and young people who have everything going for them, and have yet to experience setbacks or failures are referred to as ‘fragile thoroughbreds’. This is because failures early in life make children more resilient. They learn to easily pick up and carry on after setbacks. But facing major setbacks after an ‘easy’ life lacking challenges can make young people fragile.

Knowing how to handle failure, and having a positive mindset about it it also important for success.

Those with a fixed mindset, who believe they have to “be good” as they are, rather than in their own potential for improvement,  are the ones who take failures most to heart. And as a result, minor setbacks make them stop trying. And that is bad. It prevents them from reaching their full potential.

Whether they are 8, 18 or 80, people with a fixed mindset are prone to limit themselves to only activities and efforts that have a high degree of success. How limiting can that be, whether in sports, arts, in a profession or vocation?

Great success comes from failures

It is no secret that great success comes from failures. Those who can learn from failures, those who believe we can improve with effort are the real winners in life. Ability to overcome fear of failure is a key component of success.

He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.


In sports, in academics, in business, in any sphere of life or business you wish to consider, the real winners are those who have tasted bitter failure, not just once, but many times over.

A growth mindset is necessary for success

This is especially so where continuous effort is necessary to keep winning. Anyone can be a winner once in a while. But you need a good attitude towards success to be a ‘real’ winner.

Let us look at a few examples of those who have what psychologist Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset.

Not only do they believe in “becoming better”–as opposed to “being good”–they actually welcome failures and setbacks because they know there is much to learn from such experiences.

Michael Jordan

I’ve failed over and over and over again. That is why I succeed.


Nelson Mandela

Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.


J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling knows about failure and rejection. Twelve publishers rejected her manuscript. One year later, one publisher gave her a chance but told her to get a day job since she had little change of making money in children’s books.

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all–in which case, you fail by default.


Thomas Alva Edison

And we cannot forget the classic quote on failure and success from the inventor of the light bulb about his invention  process.

I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.


Bill Gates

It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.

Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting In New York

The lesson is clear: Try to learn from failures

We, in America, are obsessed with success stories. But in the words of Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam:

Don’t read success stories, you will only get a message.

Read failure stories, you will get some ideas to get success.


In other words…

Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.~Napoleon Hill


Find ways to overcome failure and the fear of failure.

If fear paralyzes you, you will not try anything.
Here are a few ideas:

  • Appreciate the value of failures. The most important thing you can do is appreciate the age old wisdom that failures are the pillars of success.
  • Cultivate a growth mindset. Its never too late and you can do it if you try. Read my previous post, ‘You Can Change Your Mindset and Your Destiny’.
  • Don’t give up. Almost everyone who has achieved anything worthwhile has had to deal with failure. Often, the scale of failure is way more than you’d experience in your lifetime. And they still made it.
  • Check out ’16 Famous Failure to Success Stories’ from Brandon Gaille (@BrandonGaille) which shows what daunting challenges very famous people were up against before they found success.
  • Have grit. Its the most essential predictor of success. You can develop it yourself, if you feel you are lacking.
  • Watch ‘The Key to Success? GRIT’, a TED Talks video from Angela Lee Duckworth

So there you are. This is why I believe, “The most important thing in life… is learning how to fall”.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Please feel free to comment on this post. Thank you.



About rcullen2015

I am an author, attorney, mediator and Professor of Law at the Santa Clara University. My first book was 'The Leading Lawyer, a Guide to Practicing Law and Leadership'. Now I am working on a book about 3S: Success, Significance and Satisfaction for the 50+ crowd.
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