3 Questions to Ask When You've Failed Before

“Experience is the greatest teacher."

I’ve heard this latin proverb and phrases like it since I was young. However, if experience is the greatest teacher, and my experience is failure, doesn’t that mean that I would fail if I tried again? Doesn’t this phrase point out the fact that I should quit trying if my past is full of failure?

Though, I’m convinced this was not the way the proverb was meant to be interpreted, I think we might act otherwise. We step out and we fail so we don’t step out again. I remember the feeling of failure from one of my first start-ups. Not long after shutting that company down, my partners and I had the opportunity to build another company. We did, but this time around we were cautious. We were scared to take any significant risks, and we didn’t. Guess what? The company was a moderate success at best, but it had the potential to be one of the biggest things we’d ever done.

Why were we so terrified to take a risk again?

Whether we said it or not, somewhere deep down, we believed that experience was the greatest teacher. The last time we “went big” we failed, so we’d play it safe. Although safe really meant limiting our upside.

If I were to re-write this great latin proverb, here’s what it would say:

Experience the the greatest teacher, and whether success or failure is our experience, the lessons learned will provide a clear path to success in the future.

We have to reframe experience in the light of education instead of frustration.

When our experience is failure, we should carefully examine why we failed. Don’t take failure personal. Failure has nothing to do with a genetic limitation. Failure teaches us what not to do the next time around.

Ask these three questions about past failure:

  1. Ask Yourself: Why did I fail?

  2. Ask Friends: Why do you think I failed?

  3. Ask someone who succeeded: Why do you think I failed?

I’d value the third person’s opinion over everyone else. Sometimes the reasons we think we failed aren’t right at all.  We need another person’s perspective to see past our own failure.

Once you have the answers to these questions, create a new game plan for how you will approach your next opportunity, and approach it with confidence.

If you have failed before, you’re better equipped to succeed the next time around. Let’s face our failure and learn from it.

Chris CapehartComment