MANY think failure is the opposite of success — but this statement cannot be further from the truth. Failure is often misconstrued as socially unacceptable and negative, but making a mistake is part and parcel of any success journey. Just because you made a mistake does not mean you are a mistake.

If you have tried before to make a public speech and you floundered the first time, that experience merely tells you where you made mistakes. For example, your speech was too long, you lacked eye contact with your audience, your graphics were not compelling enough, and so on.

If you next concluded that you failed miserably and vowed not to make future speeches, then you misunderstood the purpose of failure.

Failure should serve as a feedback mechanism for us to seek improvement in the areas we are weak in. Too often, we seek perfection or react inappropriately to the outcome — what we do is either a success or not. We typically have low or no tolerance of failure in ourselves and others. Perhaps it is time to think more positively about a negative experience.

Here are three ways to make failure work for you:



 Have patience

As we live in a fast-paced environment, our drive for success is accelerated and measured by other people’s yardsticks. If you did not score an A in your exam or get something right on the first try, you question your intelligence. But many successful entrepreneurs, among them Virgin’s Richard Branson, did not fare well academically yet have blazed trails in the business world.

We need to exercise more patience, take a longer-term perspective and achieve our goals within reasonable timelines. In setting unrealistic deadlines, we inevitably set ourselves up for unnecessary stress and “failure”.



 Set incremental goals

When our goals are too big, we create a path for disappointment and frustration. Over time, if we find the gap not narrowing from where we are to where we are going, we may give up and say to ourselves: “I am a failure.”

Plan to achieve your goals in incremental steps so you score small successes at each stage of the journey. When you experience these victories, you will remain motivated and focused.

It is also essential to note that your goals must be aligned to your values and purpose in life — do not blindly copy what others are doing. Sometimes other voices tell you: “You should do this, you should be this, you should have this.” These cloud your vision and obstruct the journey to your true goals in life.



 Be decisive

It is often said there are two guarantees in life: death and taxes. But some people want certainty in many things they do — and since they don’t often find it, they prefer to play safe and avoid anything new.

They think if they avoid taking risks, they can avoid failure. They might have heard stories of how others failed in this project or that business, and decide not to act at all.

Said Mr Thomas Watson, the former chairman and chief executive officer of IBM: “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.” That means you need to make decisions based on calculated risk and take action.

If you venture out of your comfort zone and taste a little success, that may encourage you to make bigger and bolder decisions about committing to your next goal. You eventually become more adept at taking risks and view failure not as a life-and-death matter but a necessary process to success.


Essential for success

Failure is an essential ingredient in the path to any successful endeavour. When you meet an obstacle, it is a time to reflect if you are on track, and if not, how to get back on.

Did you over-use your resources instead of allocating them properly? Was your timing right? Was the strategy suitable or should it be tweaked further?

Once you have reviewed the situation, and taken a little breather to recharge, you can continue towards your path to success. In fact, you are now equipped with the right knowledge of “failure” and can use it to your advantage.


Article by Desmond Chua, an associate lecturer, entrepreneur and relationship coach. For more information, e-mail