You Only Fail When You Fail to Learn


Failure is part of life. If you’re paying attention, failure can lead to learning.

Albert Einstein, the genius himself, said a couple of insightful things about failure: 

1. “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

2. “Failure is success in progress.”

And if you’re reading this anywhere near a lightbulb, you have Thomas Edison’s failures to thank for the light you see. He worked on the invention of the lightbulb for years, failing over 1,000 times, although he didn’t see it that way.  

Asked how it felt to fail 1,000 times, he said “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The lightbulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” 

Edison is right to see it that way. He took notes on every attempt. He studied his notes, designed his next attempt from them, took notes on that next attempt, and used those to refine yet another attempt.  

Each attempt, he learned something and all along he was honing in on success. 

Edison is not alone. Have a look at the quotes on this site for even more inspiration.  

You don’t have to be a famous inventor to act this way. The lesson is clear, and available to all of us: no matter what it is you want to achieve, if you look at each attempt as an opportunity to learn, then you’ll get better with each attempt and from that practice you will eventually reach your goal.  

I tried to climb Mount Rainier last summer with a group of friends. We got close--less than half a mile from the summit--but we didn’t summit. Part of that was due to weather, but some of it had to do with health, conditioning and equipment.  

For safety, we came down. But we haven’t given up. We’ll tackle the mountain again. And next time we do, we’ll have the benefit of our first attempt to guide us in our second. 

In your life there is no limit to the number of times you can try, because you decide when you’re done trying. No one gets to decide for you. You tried something and it didn’t work? So what? If you learned something from trying, there’s no way that’s a failure.