Somewhere between learning to walk and the proverbs of high school or college graduation speeches are lessons in….falling on your arse. Call your buttocks and their accompanying hindsight what you will – today’s locker-room pep talk is about learning to embrace failure.

Now, far be it from me to pay disrespect to the Ghost of Rockne. After all, pre-game and halftime locker-room speeches are more reveille than reflective. And dissecting failures, beyond immediate adjustments on the battlefield, are best left for film reviews and practice days.

So, on those glorious Saturday and Sunday game days, it’s probably best to “go, go, go go….And don’t forget…today is the day we’re gonna win.” (Thank you, Rock.)

But once the clock runs out on today’s game and the final score is in the history books, it’s back to talks of failure.

Yup. Failure.

Even if your team took home the spoils on Saturday, you’re going to get a report card on your performance. Yes, you may have celebrated and chest-bumped in the endzone, but there were inevitably plays that fell flat.

And next Saturday has a new foe that will be just as bloodthirsty as you are.

So your coach’s job is to do more than deliver a win-one-for-the-Gipper pep talk on game day. It’s to help you embrace failure as a tool for improvement so that game-day rally cry actually makes sense.

Famous People Who Failed…And Succeeded To Tell About It

Let’s just acknowledge the Grim Reaper in the room: Failure sucks. At least emotionally and in the moment.

And just because you learn to accept and rise above it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a beverage at your own pity party.

Take Lady Gaga, for example. Six-time Grammy winner, actress, activist, and member of the tens-of-millions-of-dollars club.

Straight shot to stardom for petite Stephanie Germanotta? Not even close.

Her first record label, Def Jam Records, dropped her after only three months. And word has it she “cried so hard she couldn’t talk.”

Of course, we all know who’s crying now. And it ain’t Gaga. (You can read her never-say-die story here.)

Then there is the familiar list of Abraham Lincoln’s setbacks en route to the White House. Business failures, the death of his sweetheart, a nervous breakdown, political loss after loss.

Lincoln, of course, went on to become President of the United States and issue the Emancipation Proclamation that ended slavery. 

If you have ever been to our nation’s capital and visited the Lincoln Memorial, what did you “see”? His failures? His accomplishments? Or some inextricable combination of the two?

Chances are, the people whose names are ingrained in our culture have volumes of failures preceding the successes we take for granted. 

Walt Disney was fired by an editor who said he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Ha! True story!

And J.K. Rowling was living on welfare before bringing Harry Potter to life.

Watch Deshauna Barber talk in a commencement address about her multiple state-pageant losses en route to becoming Miss USA 2016. She didn’t lose just once…or twice…or even three times….

“Do not fear failure,” she says. “But please be terrified of regret. Because giving up is the birth of regret.”

The common thread through the successes of history is this: Those we admire and remember for their accomplishments learned to embrace failure. And then they transformed it.

How can you embrace failure and turn it into success?

I know, I know. No one sets out to fail. And face-planting two strides from the finish line will rob you of not only a gold medal, but seemingly a silver lining, too.

But hang with me here – because the shift from failure to success starts with a simple shift in perspective.

Here are 6 ways to embrace failure on the path to success:

  1. Think of your failings as beginnings, not endings.

    I enjoy occasional road trips by myself. They give me time and space to clear my head, welcome the unexpected, and unleash my creative spirit.

    But a road trip wouldn’t be a road trip without at least one traffic jam, detour, or wrong turn. Sometimes it’s me, sometimes it’s GPS, and sometimes it’s just a matter of developmental growth.

    I remember one trip where I made the conscious decision to take the detours and wrong turns in stride. (The traffic jams? Not so much.)

    By shifting my attitude from one of self-criticism (for missing a turn or getting lost), I have had some wonderfully unexpected experiences. I have taken scenic routes instead of freeways, dined at mom-and-pop diners, and discovered nature reserves that are now must-do’s when I return.

    In the bigger scheme of life, where “failure” registers deeply and often painfully in jobs and relationships, beginnings may not be so obvious.

    At least not at first, when all you see are mistakes and regrets.

    But remember that life goes on. And you always have two choices: You can stay stuck in place, screaming at the metaphorical wall in front of you. Or you can see the dead end as a road not yet completed…or not worth completing.

    Know that even a dead end has information to give. Stop. Go back. Go around. This way isn’t safe. This road isn’t ready for you. You’re not ready for this road. There’s a better way, a better outcome, a different destiny.
  2. Risk certainty for possibility.

    Unfortunately, our fast-paced, competitive world conditions us to strive for perfection in “the known,” even when we daydream about “what could be.”

    Many of us have worked for bosses or companies so “branded” in their expectations that there is no room for “what if” thinking or experimentation.

    We conform in order to keep our jobs. We strive for programmed levels of accomplishment in order to keep a paycheck.

    And yet, all innovation – and every competitive edge – has come from someone being willing to ask, “What if?”

    If you are in a position of authority or power, dare to reward your team for striving beyond the safety of certainty. Inspire and encourage a commitment to something not yet conceived, but aching to be born.

    Consider building a culture of failure to create workflows that allow employees to learn from mistakes and unsuccessful endeavors without blame. In a culture of failure, you embrace failure.
  3. Be grateful that you now know “what not to do” and don’t have to guess.

    Sometimes I think failure deserves a kinder name. It does, after all, come bearing gifts, no matter what party it crashes.

    If everything in your life goes exactly as planned, how will you ever know what could possibly go wrong? How will you learn why some methods won’t work long-term? Or how to fix a problem you didn’t even know could exist?

    A failed relationship, for example, can expose mistakes you never wanted to acknowledge when everything “seemed” perfect. Even a little self-accountability can go a long way toward informing your conscience…and your future relationship.

    And in the workplace, the failure of a new product will lead you to its own correction if you pay attention. So why not embrace failure?
  4. Welcome failure by prioritizing innovation.

    Say the word “inventor,” and Thomas Edison will likely be on the list.

    But did you know that Edison had many epic fails that weren’t exactly, um, light-bulb moments?

    Think about it. Does anyone honestly believe that even a genius could just sit down and take the world from candlelight to electricity in one try?

    The great inventors throughout history have not only accepted their mistakes and failures, they have welcomed them. Relied on them.

    Failure in the name of innovation is nothing less than an “aha” moment.

    In Edison’s words, “I have not failed 10,000 times – I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.”
  5. Think of failure as feedback.

    All tender egos aside, even a negative Yelp review, if presented with genuine thoughtfulness, can be perceived positively.

    So you dropped the ball on a product or service. It happens.

    Here’s where honest feedback can be your ticket to converting failure into success. After all, not everyone is willing to risk sharing a thoughtful appraisal that could help an individual or business improve.

    Whether the failure presents itself or is revealed by an unsatisfied customer, the best response is always thank you.

    And we all know that a heartfelt, well-executed correction can lead to greater trust and loyalty than were there to begin with.
  6. Analyze potential outcomes and consider the worst-case scenario.

    Fear of failure is a natural emotional experience. And none of us escape it.

    One of the best ways to fend off the fear-of-failure procrastination and avoidance jitters is to analyze all the potential outcomes.

    What if I do it this way? What if I do or don’t do ‘this’? What if I do it now? What if I wait? How could this go right? How could this go wrong?

    Consider also the worst-case scenario.

    In some cases, this may give you a realistic pause to reconsider your intention or plan.

    In other cases, it may give you an empowering calm to know that, even if the worst were to happen, you could handle it.

Failure Makes Headlines

In the long run, it’s always the starlet with at least a little grease under her nails that we idolize. 

And the winner who crawled out from those closet skeletons always seems somehow more real, approachable, likable. 

Regardless of how passionately we pursue perfection on the first try, kick-off returns for six are few and far between.

And, while they are exciting in the moment, they’re not the stuff of gridiron lore. 

Fans want the comeback stories, the Hail Mary’s as the clock runs out, the Snow Bowl go-for-it impossible wins.

They want the Rudy’s who are so damn devoted to their dreams that they don’t even see the walls they keep slamming into.

And why?

Because, like all of us flawed, failed, fumbling humans, they, too, want to believe in something worth fighting for.

And most of all, they want to believe that, no matter what it takes, they can achieve it.

As Deshauna Barber asked herself on her journey to the crown, “If not me, then who?”

Dr Elayne Daniels is an international coach, consultant, and psychologist.  Her passion is igniting joy and curiosity in others so they have more meaning in their lives. Check out more of her offerings here.