Your Failures Don’t Define You. Your Response Does.

By Margie Warrell, courage expert, author, speaker, coach and media commentator.

In December 1903, a New York Times editorial questioned the intelligence of the Wright brothers efforts to invent a machine that would fly. “It simply defies the laws of physics,” they argued. One week later, at Kitty Hawk, the Wright Brothers took their famous flight.

If you study history, you will find that all stories of great success are also stories of great triumph over adversity. But often we overlook the setbacks and only see the end success. We think the person got lucky. Or maybe they were just really smart. Or talented. Or well connected. But that’s all bunk. While it may have been a little bit of each, what ultimately led to their success was their refusal to allow their setbacks and failures to define them. Nor anyone else.

Albert Einstein did not speak until he was four and did not read until he was seven. His teachers and even his parents thought he was mentally handicapped, slow and anti-social. Eventually, he was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School. But Einstein did not let his critics define him. Nor accept defeat. And while he may have been a ‘slow starter’, I’m sure you’d agree that he eventually caught up pretty well. Today this Nobel Laurete’s name is synonymous with genius.

One day a partially deaf four-year-old kid came home with a note in his pocket from his teacher, “Your Tommy is too stupid to learn. We cannot have him at our school.” His mother decided to teach him herself. Partially deaf and with only three months of formal schooling Tommy grew into a man that changed the course of history. Thomas Edison went on to fail approximately 10,000 times before he succeeded in inventing the light bulb. And even Oprah Winfrey, my very own hero, was fired from a junior reporter job being told she was “unfit for TV.”  Oprah unfit for TV?! She has redefined it!  

Of course, you may feel like you have little in common with Oprah, Edison or Einstein. But that isn’t true. You do. They were not born with some super-human-like resilience that shielded them from disappointment, self-doubt or misgivings. They each had to wage their own inner battles with fear of failure as they worked hard to overcome the external obstacles that lined their path to success. What distinguishes these people is that they did not become a victim to their failures. When they fell down, they got back up. And when people told them it couldn’t be done, they refused to buy into their lack of belief.

There are things that you and only you can do. Things that will never be done if you do not do them. But any worthwhile accomplishment is going to call on you to trust in yourself more fully, to risk making mistakes and forgive yourself when you do, to press on when the going gets tough, and to refuse to allow your setbacks to define you (no the cynics in your life).

How you choose to interpret your failures will either move you forward in life or hold you back. Every failure can be turned into a stepping stone to success. Every mistake is a lesson in what not to do. Every setback is an opportunity to dig deeper in to yourself, to access resources you didn’t know you have and to acquire wisdom you could gain no other way.

Every story of success is also a story of triumph over adversity. What story are your writing?

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