Vince Lombardi, former Green Bay Packers football coach, was quoted as saying, "Wining isn't everything, it's the only thing." Leo Durocher, the old Dodgers baseball coach said, "Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser." Gen. George Patten said, "Americans love a winner and they hate a loser."
Yet there are no Olympics, World Series, Final Four or Super Bowl champions who have not lost many times. Every champion experiences many failures enroute to ultimate success. That is also true with successful inventors, business people and politicians.
George Washington, first general of the U.S. military, did not win a battle in the first two years of the revolution. Abraham Lincoln, assumed to be among the greatest presidents in our history, lost eight elections before becoming president of the United States.
Thomas Edison, inventor of the electric light bulb and one of the most inventive minds in our history, was once asked how many experiments it took to discover how to make the electric light bulb. He answered that it was perfected on the 1,067th try. A reporter then asked him how it felt to have 1,066 failures. He said, "We didn't have 1,066 failures. We just know 1,066 ways not to make an electric light bulb." Credit Thomas Edison with the insightful saying, "Many of life's failures are experienced by people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."
No person afraid of failure ventures into the unknown. Politicians, even those with great capacity for leadership, who can not tolerate failure are not likely to run for office. Inventors who cannot tolerate failure will never discover a new way to do something. Athletes who cannot tolerate failure don't push themselves higher or faster.
We live in a capitalistic society where a basic building block is competition. We are graded in school, compete for jobs, and put our products or services into the marketplace in competition with others. Sometimes we do well, but much of the time we don't.
Our greatest contributors to society are celebrated for their ultimate successes which generally come after persevering through many failures. That can be applied to the geniuses of our history, to people like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Henry Ford, Jonas Sauk, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc. It also fits a long list of popular sports figures.
Virtually all of the major contributors to American society would confess to having had many failures in their careers. A willingness to fail appears to be a necessary predecessor to success whether the field is sports, politics, or business. In fact, it can be said with certainty, "Failure is no more fatal than success is permanent."
Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for GateHouse News Service and Scripps Newspapers. He is past president of colleges in universities in four states and currently serves as executive director of a higher-education consulting service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.