How To Fail At Anything And Get Away With It

by Johnny Bravo

How To Fail At Anything And Get Away With ItFailing is a natural part of life which can help you recognize weaknesses and course correct when needed. 

Instead of shying away from failing, professionals should use it as a catalyst to help refocus their energy to where it needs to go.

It’s not very easy to do though. Failing horribly or often enough can burn a memory into your mind like a searing hot poker into the eye of what you call life.

I can probably go on and on about the times I’ve failed in life, work, and everything in between. Too often people are afraid of failing. I want to change that mindset today. I want to help you understand that failing is not something to avoid.

In fact it should be embraced.

I think it’s OK to fail as long as you come out better because of it. If you learned something valuable that will make you more likely to succeed in the future, then congratulations because you just got away with failing.

First let me explain what failing is and what it isn’t.

Working hard and coming up short on a project. That is failing.  

Slacking off and acting surprised that the project came up short. That is not failing. That is laziness

Trying something new and taking action even when it doesn’t work out. That is failing.

Having a million ideas and never starting any of them. That is not failing. That is inaction.  

Working as a team, doing your part, motivating others even after you find out a goal won’t be hit. That is failing

Blaming others, not doing your part, and missing a goal. That is not failing. That is entitlement.

An Example Of When I Failed And Got Away With It

Let me give you an example from my own life which I will never forget. A time when failing caused me to do a course correction that forever changed my life. 

When I first started martial arts I thought I was pretty good. I was young (about 16 years old), athletic, flexible, smart, and could imagine myself taking on Chuck Norris himself in a one on one death match.

When my first rank testing came along, allowing me to move from the paltry white belt to the ultimate first step orange belt, I felt confident in my abilities. I had worked hard to perfect my kicks, blocks, and all important punch.

I practiced those moves so much I considered myself an expert in each one. The problem was that I hadn’t practiced them together, or more importantly in the order that my form required.

I kid you not, there are 18 steps to the white belt form. I blanked at move #9. I stood there, unable to remember #10 in front of a crowd of dozens of strangers, my instructors and worse of all myself…staring face to face in the mirror.

If you’re not familiar with the American Taekwondo Association white belt form, it is 18 moves following a linear fashion. Literally a straight line. You are suppose to finish in the same place you started. As easy as it gets.

With all the time and energy I had spent practicing my moves, I failed miserably.

Like many teenagers trying something new you would have thought that would be it. I would have left the testing, gone home, made some excuse to not go to practice anymore, and move on with my life forever stuck in the low ranks of taekwondo.

Well that’s not what happened. Instead that embarrassment lit a fire under me that fueled a successful stint in the martial arts industry. I was Head Instructor, State Champion, a World Champion competitor, well regarded with my peers and students, and seriously considered opening my own studio.

Had I not moved away to UCLA I have no doubt in my mind that story would continue.

That first failure forever changed the way I looked at perfecting a skill. I not longer focused on the one event (a kick or punch) but strove to understand why I was doing it and how that one piece fit into the overall puzzle.

I didn’t let it get me down. I didn’t let it force me to quit.

I got away with failing.

How To Fail At Anything

That story is not the only one I have. It is one of the earliest I can remember and conceptualize though. And it is a great example that helped me realize that there are four steps involved in failing at anything and getting away with it.

  1. Do it early
  2. Accept what happened
  3. Understand why you failed
  4. Figure out how to not fail the same way again 

Do It Early

What makes the story above bearable is that I was only 16 and a white belt.

I understand that a vast majority of the people reading this are probably not 16 years old. But when you first start out at something you are most definitely a white belt.

It’s better to fail early in the endeavor so you can course correct before you go too far in the wrong direction.

Accept What Happened

Failing is not the time to blame others. If you were a part of the team then you were part of the problem.

Accept that this time around that whatever it is you did didn’t work.  That you need to change something.

It doesn’t matter if you change the whole plan or a minute detail of it, accepting that you need to change something is how you get closer to not failing again.

Understand Why You Failed

It’s not only important to accept that you failed and need a course correction it’s also important to understand WHY you failed.

In my testing I realized that it wasn’t my technique that was wrong, it was  my execution. I focused too much on kicking high when I should have focused on the move before (setting up) and the move after (follow through). This would have made it much easier for me to remember the form in its entirety without sacrificing technique.

In your sales career, do you focus too much on your cold calling scripts when you should be focusing on better qualifying your leads?

In your last interview did you interview well but have horrible follow up?

Having a clear understanding of why you failed will help you avoid it later on.

Figure Out How To Not Fail The Same Way Again

The key point I want to make here is that it’s still OK to fail. It is NOT OK to fail the same way twice.

Thomas Edison and Joseph Swan failed many many many times before they “perfected” the incandescent light bulb. But they didn’t fail the same way twice. They tried different methods, different materials until they found one that worked to their satisfaction.

After I was awarded my orange belt I completely changed the way I practiced. I did my form alone, in groups, in class, as a whole, split it up into chunks, did it backwards, and in my mind.

There were times even as a black belt that I messed up a move here or there. But it was never because I failed to practice the form or move.

Go Out And Fail At Something

I can’t stress the importance of failing and learning from that failure. Too often we are petrified at the thought of failure.

I promise that inaction is worse than any failure as long as you put in a solid effort.

So, what will you fail at and get away with today? I’m interested to hear your take on Google+, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

~ Johnny Bravo

Image courtesy of fotographic1980 /

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