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  • Writer's pictureBurton W. Cole

Failure is just a road to success

My life didn’t end when I failed.

When I moaned to Dad that Coach cut me from the seventh-grade basketball team, Dad didn’t make an angry phone call to demand that I be placed in the starting rotation or else. He didn’t deprive me of failure.

“Guess you’ll have to try harder next season. You’ve got a whole year to practice.”

I pelted the hoop hanging on the barn wall with shot after shot. I jumped rope. I ran. I read how-to books.

And I made the eighth-grade team—by default. There were so few of us that no one was cut. I huffed and puffed through all the drills in practice as hard as I could. But come game time, I mostly warmed the bench. One game, I stunned my whole team by making a free throw.

That single point was the only one I scored my entire scholastic basketball career.

I am a basketball failure. And that worked toward my success elsewhere in life because I learned about handling disappointment. I learned how to shake off jeers. I learned teamwork. I learned work ethic. I learned how to be ready even when you know you aren’t going to get into the game. I learned that basketball wasn’t my calling in life, that I wasn’t going to the NBA—and that that wasn’t the end of the world.

Dad let me find out all those things by myself.

In our well-intentioned efforts to build self-esteem, we work hard to shield Johnny and Janie from failure. We award medals and kudos for merely showing up—even for a half-hearted job.

My theory is that the plague of entitled brats (I am speaking of adults) who believe in being rewarded without accomplishing anything were once kids who weren’t permitted the privilege of learning by losing.

Failures teach us how to succeed—as long as we don’t give up. I figured out that while I, a non-athletic guy, would never play basketball well, I am able to pen star stories about the game because I’ve been there. And all that practice showed me that if I missed the literary shot the first time, keep running the drills, discover your sweet spot, and keep shooting.

Thomas Edison didn’t quit when working to invent the electric light bulb: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

Here are a few other observations on success through failure:

“The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.”—President Theodore Roosevelt

“Even a mistake may turn out to be the one thing necessary to a worthwhile achievement.”—Henry Ford

“I’ve failed over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”—basketball legend Michael Jordan (who also was cut from his junior high basketball team, but unlike me, he came back big time!)

“Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”—boxing great Muhammad Ali

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”—Winston Churchill

“Failures, repeated failures, are fingerposts on the road to achievement. One fails forward towards success.”—author C.S. Lewis (Fingerposts are those road signs on a post with one or more arms—often arrow-shaped—pointing the direction. I had to look it up because I failed to know this.)

“Winners are not afraid of losing. But losers are. Failure is part of the process of success. People who avoid failure also avoid success.”—Robert T. Kiyosaki

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”—Romans 5:3-5 (NIV)

“For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.”—Proverbs 24:16 (NIV)

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.”—1 John 2:1 (NIV)

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