An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : News : Commentaries : Display
NEWS | April 8, 2015

The Opportunity of Failure

By Col. Jeffrey DeVore Joint Base Charleston commander

There are 86,400 seconds in a day.  How did you use those seconds today?  What did you learn?  What difference did you make?  Did you leave an opportunity behind?  Over the past 20 months, I have asked myself these questions daily as I leave work.  Sometimes I feel very good about the answers to those questions, and some days ... I feel like I have failed.  Yep, you read it right, I feel like I have failed.  Failure sucks.  It is a lonely feeling.  It is an angry feeling.  It is also a very enlightening feeling.  Like you, I hate to fail.  But, I've learned over my 22 years in the Air Force that you can't always win.  Some days, you lose. 

So how do you cope with that?  How do you overcome it?  For starters, you better own it.  It is a hard lesson to own failure.  It is not in our DNA to shed ego and admit you failed, especially when everyone is watching.  But, you can't be afraid of it.  You can't be so afraid to fail that you won't try.  People make mistakes all the time.  The important thing to remember is take the ownership, admit it, learn from it, and then move on.  I am convinced that anyone who has never failed has never tried.

It is important to also remember that failure is not final.  The best hitters in baseball sometimes strike out.  The best goalies in soccer sometimes allow goals.  What makes them great hitters or great goalies is that they don't allow the same failure to be repeated over and over.  They adjust to the situation and turn the negative into a positive.  They use the failure as a motivator or opportunity instead of using it as an excuse.  They gain strength from the failure.  They build success from the failure.  They become better because of the failure.

Another thing to keep in mind, is when you fail, always fall forward.  You think basketball great Michael Jordan ever failed?  The six-time NBA Champion often refers to getting cut from his high school basketball team and going home to cry as a motivator to success.  He failed.  But, in his failure, he fell forward.  He fell forward by owning the failure, learning from it, and moving on.  He built success on that failure.  Michael Jordan did not leave the opportunity to play basketball behind even though he initially failed.

So what does all this mean?  Don't be afraid to fail.  And if you do fail, fall forward, take the lesson, learn from it, and use it as a foundation for success.  As a supervisor, it is hard to let your folks fail.  But sometimes you have to let them.  You have to let them learn and experience.  You have to test their resiliency.  And you have to let them be accountable.  You would be amazed on how resilient they will be if they are treated like an adult and coached through failure rather than degraded.

There are 86,400 seconds in a day.  How are you going to use those seconds today?  What did you learn?  What difference did you make?  Did you leave an opportunity behind?  Don't let failure define you; instead, let it be the opportunity to succeed.