The Science of Achievement

For creative people with big, gutsy goals

This Healthy View of Failure Frees You to Learn from Your Mistakes

Have you ever walked into your CFO’s office holding a $6,000 invoice no one saw coming?

Woman dropped an ice cream cone

In my first job after college, I directed a product development department that created group weight loss curriculums.

After a few months in the position, I received a shocking invoice from our graphic designer.

Turns out, I had misunderstood our agreement with this contractor. I thought we were paying him by the project. In reality, we were paying him by the hour. It was time to face the music. 

I found my boss seated in his office reading the paper. So I knocked twice, cleared my throat, and told him what had happened. I explained what I’d learned and insisted it wouldn’t happen again—if he gave me another chance.

Then I waited to get fired.

“Okay, thanks for letting me know.” He mumbled, without looking up from his newspaper.

I couldn’t believe his casual response.

“Aren’t you angry about the $6,000?” I blurted out.

My boss swiveled his desk chair to face me, and calmly said six simple words that radically changed the way I viewed failure. 

“Let’s think of it as tuition.”

That was the day I realized, learning always comes at a cost.

In school you spend time and money for the opportunity to learn.

In life, well…nothing really changes.

But a common mistake keeps insecure people from spotting the lessons failure can teach.

If you blame your mistakes on other people, if you make them someone else’s problem, you will deny yourself life changing lessons and the opportunity to grow.

I could have blamed our designer for not communicating clearly. Or shoved a more tenured coworker under the buss for not explaining how things worked.

But when you deny your responsibility for failure, you relinquish your opportunity for growth.

How? Because growth comes from thinking about what you could have done differently. The moment you blame someone else, you turn off your brain and forfeit your power to improve.

Use this exercise to practice owning and learning from your mistakes

Write down three screw-ups that secretly haunt you. Then for each mistake you’ve made, write down one lesson you learned from that experience.

Finally, rewrite your lists using this template. “If I had only (write the lesson you learned), I could have (write the success you missed out on).”

It might be subconscious, but this is exactly what high achievers do when they flop. They own their mistakes and mine for takeaways, viewing the failure as tuition.

The blame game is a game you are destined to lose. But when you recognize the necessary cost of learning, own your actions and their outcomes, and think about how to do better, life will become your portable classroom—brimming with secrets to share.

What a great way to get ahead.

About Kyle Young

Kyle lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife Haley and their two puppies, Ralph and Nora. He's a writer, speaker, and consultant for online businesses that are committed to growth.

6 Replies

  1. Ekene

    Very insightful.

    1. Kyle Young

      Glad you found this helpful, Ekene.

  2. Mir

    Thanks for the lesson!

    1. Kyle Young

      Of course!

  3. Alfredo

    I’m reading your book “quitterproof”, only 12 pages to go and I find it excellent and very inspiring. I’ve really been longing for guidance to face up my setbacks and have found in this book a real committement to keep striving. Thanks for writing this book

    1. Kyle Young

      My pleasure, Alfredo. I’m glad you’re finding it helpful. 🙂

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