Words to Live By: Just Keep Swimming

“Failure is not an option.”

At the time NASA flight controller Jerry Bostick uttered that phrase, I can see his point. After all, he was on a mission to bring home the damaged Apollo 13. A fitting phrase, given the circumstances.

However, it’s a phrase that has been repeated so many times that it seems it is a part of our psyche, and sometimes makes us so focused on just not failing…that we don’t aim for success. What sometimes happens then, is that not failing is the same as success. Semantics I know. But I have a better quote for you to try on for size.

“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill.

Indeed. Perhaps no wiser words have been spoken. But my goodness, isn’t failure still one of those things we all fear the most? And I am not sure why. History shows us that much can be gained from failure.

It is said that it took Thomas Edison 1,000 tries…that is 1,000 “failures”, before he invented the light bulb.


“How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” a reporter once asked. “I didn’t fail 1,000 times,” Edison responded. “The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” (via Success.com)

Failure shouldn’t be viewed as, well, failure, but instead viewed as life’s greatest teacher.

Business mavericks and sports legends alike use failure as a powerful tool in reaching great success. We’ve all heard the “Michael Jordan got cut as a sophomore” story. (I’ve used that one on all four of my kids.) And just this season after the Vikings loss to the Carolina Panthers, Stefan Diggs told us, “I don’t view it as a loss, but rather as an opportunity to learn.”

Failure and defeat can be life’s greatest teachers, but it seems perhaps there are company cultures that don’t embrace this way of thinking. In those settings, it seems, employees choose to play it safe, to fly below the radar, operating under the belief that if they make no waves no one will yell at them for failing. So, generally, they never attempt anything great.

I am hoping there will be a shift in this type of company culture. It may already be starting. Failure is not the bad word it used to be. Yes, views are changing about this particular F-word. BusinessWeek recently wrote that many companies are deliberately seeking out those with track records reflecting both failure and success, believing that those who have been in the trenches, survived battle and come out on the other side have irreplaceable experience and perseverance.

The reality is, you are going to fail. And you may even “fail” a lot. After all, it took the swimmer Diana Nyad five tries to swim from Cuba to Florida.

Which reminds me of another famous quote, from Dory in Finding Nemo…no matter what, “Just keep swimming.”

Lisa Cownie

Lisa Cownie

Editor of Connect Business Magazine

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