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The Learning Curve Between Success and Failure

learning curve

Do you believe that success is the opposite of failure? That’s exactly what most of us have been conditioned to think. If someone makes an all out effort to achieve some goal but doesn’t quite make it, what have they done?

Have they failed?

Well, that all depends on their concept (and yours) of success and failure. For some, the result alone is what determines if we belong in the winner’s circle or not.

If life were a single, all or nothing event with no learning curve, perhaps we could afford to be that narrow minded. But that is not the way life works.

Life has a learning curve

Have you ever accomplished anything worthwhile that only required one attempt to get it right? Have you ever seen a baby go from crawling to walking without ever falling down in the process? Falling down is part of learning to walk because there’s a learning curve.

You got to learn how to fall, before you learn to fly” -Paul Simon

This means that most successes will be preceded by a series attempts that didn’t quite produce the results we were hoping for. With that in mind, it seems like the course of wisdom is to develop a healthy respect for whole learning process, not just the final result.

Success has a learning curve

Anytime we learn from our efforts we are in the process of succeeding. Each lesson brings us closer to our intended result. Calling the learning process “failing” is not only inaccurate, it’s also emotionally discouraging.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” -Thomas Edison

If we allow ourselves to become discouraged during the process we may give up right before we reach our goal. How sad it would be to go through the learning curve and then never experience the benefits of our new knowledge.

People who understood the process

This short video is about famous success stories who stayed the course and never gave up. We can gain courage and determination from their examples.

How do you feel about failure now?
Do you value the learning curve?
The lines are open!

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30 Comments

  1. Frank J July 1, 2009 Reply

    I have always tried to challenge myself and if I failed I never looked at that way. A challenge to me is something outside my comfort zone and I test myself to see if I can adapt. If I can, great, if not, than I try to learn something from the experience.

    • Hey Frank, I prefer not to even use the word failure. Like you, I deal in the realm of challenges which always have an upside. Failure is a harsh term but many people think in those terms. Hopefully they can adjust their perception a bit.

  2. Stephen July 1, 2009 Reply

    Excellent Jonathan! The video really brings it home. I love it!

    Your learning to walk example is instructive. A child’s brain has to learn a million things NOT to do in order to walk. The same thing applies to all of life. Learning what not to do is as important if not more important than learning what to do.

    Another important point is that when you give something your best shot and you fail you still gain self-respect. That is there regardless of the result.

    • Hey Stephen, I like the point on self-respect. Thanks for mentioning the importance of learning what not to do. That’s a big part of the learning curve.

  3. pam July 2, 2009 Reply

    I hope I have moved from my failure phase .This video can help anyone
    Ty for this post .Always positive reading Jonathan!

    • Hi Pam, what a cool concept. To succeed in moving away from failure. You might want to bookmark this page and watch the video whenever you need a reminder.

  4. Rocket Bunny July 2, 2009 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,

    Life is a never ending learning process. You can never learn enough.
    People do have the misconception of the ” f ” word. It is a nasty word that makes us feel incompetent until we have the realization, it wasn’t how it was meant to be. Failure is a natural part of life, it happens for a reason.
    As children, an F on a test or report card was horribly embarrassing and it was like the whole world crashed around you. That has to change.
    Things fall apart so other things come together. It is up to the individual to turn something negative into something positive.
    Love the topic-

    • Hi Bunny, just imagine if we eliminated the whole concept of failure. Instead of the negative slant we could just call it learning. No more “F” word, no more result oriented damaged self-worth perception.

  5. Mark Lewis July 2, 2009 Reply

    I have never felt a great sense of accomplishment from something that was easy. I like the mental switch from failing to learning, it’s positive thinking in the right direction. This emphasis helps to focus on what it will take to be successful, instead of the consequence of failure.

    • Jonathan July 3, 2009 Reply

      Hey Mark, good to see you. Win, lose, or draw, I think it’s all about learning. I would rather have a valuable lesson than an empty success (most days anyway).

  6. Ralph July 3, 2009 Reply

    I use the Abraham Lincoln failure example all the time when I am trying to convince people to continue pursuing success.

    • Jonathan July 3, 2009 Reply

      Hey Ralph, welcome and thanks for joining the conversation. It’s always encouraging to see examples of people who succeeded because they never gave up on their dream.

  7. Dragos Roua July 3, 2009 Reply

    Great movie at the end, thanks for sharing, Jonathan.

    You’re so right about our own definitions of success and failure. Sometimes, failure is just a step from a bigger journey, sometimes it’s just failure. We can make the difference only if we have a larger perspective on life, only if we see beyond our immediate needs and goals.

    Seeing things in black or white is a mindset of fear and it ultimately lead to defeat in every area. Allowing nuances and bigger pictures can only enhance our learning capabilities.

    I’ll keep that in mind: success is learning :-)

  8. Mitch July 3, 2009 Reply

    I actually do believe in the concept of success and failure, but I don’t think it’s an across the board type of thing. In competition, people don’t often remember the names of the losers. However, if losers play their cards right and don’t give up, they can eventually become winners and sometimes surpass those who beat them the first time around.

    I always acknowledge the failures because they make me try harder the next time.

    • Jonathan January 3, 2011 Reply

      Hi Mitch, I feel the same way but rarely view any effort as a failure. To me, it’s all just part of the learning process and learning is always a good thing.

  9. Mike King July 6, 2009 Reply

    Nice video.. I think failure is only the case if you give up on your journey of success. Its when you stop trying to succeed or learn from it and progress onward.

    I just started a book called, “The Adversity Paradox” and it looks at this concept in detail. Loving it so far…

    • Jonathan July 9, 2009 Reply

      Hi Mike, I totally agree – failure only enters the picture if we give up. When learning stops, we’re done.

  10. Vincent Parker January 7, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,

    That was a great video. One part brought me back to an interview with Michael Jordan who said, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

    Failure is an integral part of success. I like that in one of your reply comments you said that you never like to use the word fail.

    What is failure? It’s in giving up, it’s in not learning, it’s in accepting defeat when it’s not over. Because life goes on. Each day you breathe, each day you strive, each day you do your best is a success.

    Virtually all of my life heroes speak highly of failure. I think that’s something each child needs to be taught.

    Thanks. :)

    • Jonathan January 18, 2011 Reply

      Hi Vincent, thanks so mush for joining the conversation and sharing your thoughts. Certainly, once we learn to view failure as part of the learning process it changes everything.

  11. peirre Williams January 18, 2011 Reply

    I this is a great video because in life you are going to run in to somethings thats go try and stop you but, you cant let it you have to be strong, and keep a clear head about it and then will you only successed

    • Jonathan January 18, 2011 Reply

      Hi Peirre, yes, I found the video very encouraging also.

  12. Christina March 21, 2011 Reply

    I really enjoyed this video..Life does equal risk..If we don’t take chances then we will never know. If we continue to fail at something or we keep making the same mistakes, sometimes we have to walk away, analyze the situation, and rethink it….

    • Jonathan March 21, 2011 Reply

      Hi Christina, often our greatest personal success will happen because we had to rethink a strategy that wasn’t working. That discovery process is where life really happens.

  13. michael August 29, 2011 Reply

    Awesome video! i believe that if you think your a failure then you are. you cant worry about what other people think of you it’s not about them it’s about you! believe in yourself first! that’s what thomas edison, michael jordan and so many others did they believed in themselves. Nothing beats a failure but a try! and if you try hard and long enough you’ll get your success!

  14. cynthia fair September 10, 2011 Reply

    This short video reminds me that life is a learning profess. I am learning something new everyday. I may go through a lot of failed attempts, but most importantly I need to keeping trying my hardest everyday….

  15. Jeff Robinson April 8, 2012 Reply

    Good valuable advice. I wrote this blog and I hope you and your readers enjoy it.

    Must We Fail Before We Succeed?

    We’ve all heard stories of entrepreneurs who achieved great financial success, but endured a litany of failures en route. Some people claim that it’s virtually impossible to build a successful business if you haven’t first had at least one business failure. They reason that we only know how much risk we can safely take when we know how much risk is too much. In short, is there some immutable law, which stipulates that failure is a prerequisite for success? As with questions raised by most popular maxims, the answer depends on circumstances. In this case, it depends on four factors.

  16. jessica August 22, 2012 Reply

    Finding positive, a positive attitude is not usually found around me .I feel life’s challenges keep me busy ,so i just go through the motions: just hoping some day or some way I can find a better way .

  17. Crystal March 9, 2013 Reply

    The Youtube video was a eye opener to just never let your dreams and hopes go down the drain because of failure. you have to always pick yourself up thats what make you stronger.

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