Someone said, the first thing you need to do, if you want to succeed … is fail. While it doesn’t make us feel much better when we’re struggling, there’s certainly some truth to that. Most people who achieve any level of success have pushed through failures. They’ve faced the consequences of bad decisions, or even good decisions that came with unforeseen consequences. Failure, for them, is simply one step in the process that leads to success.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” — Thomas Edison
You may be thinking, sure Trish, that sounds great coming from one of the most prolific inventors in American history. We know Edison was bound to succeed. What about all those folks who keep trying and never seem to make it? What about me? What if I never figure out how to make it work?
Those are great questions, because they draw us closer to what has us stuck.
What do we mean when we feel like we’ll “never make it” … what are we really saying? Who defined “making it work” in that question? Did we decide that … or was it someone else?
When we get stuck in those questions, it’s often because we’re focused on “how” instead of “why.” We become so focused on our circumstances, we don’t see a way out of the mess … and, let’s be honest, failure is often messy. “Why” is our motivation through the mess.
“Why” won’t tell you how to get it done, it will give you the reason(s) you need to find out how. “Why” won’t show you what needs to be done, it will encourage you to keep exploring and learning until you know. “Why” won’t tell you when something must be accomplished, it is often the difference between “now” and “never.”
Knowing “why” creates the reason to try one more time, even when you’ve already discovered 10,000 ways to fail.
Knowing “why” motivates us to stay on our journey of discovery, while focusing on how keeps us stuck on when it will end. When we are mindful of “why,” we remember that each benchmark along the way is also a success to be celebrated.
Edison understood this. Each time he failed to invent the lightbulb, he was one step closer to success. He had learned something from his failure, and each piece of knowledge gained created his path to success. Each misstep made it easier to see the path ahead.
Thinking of failure and success in this way allows us to realize it’s not about making “wrong” or “bad” decisions, helping us shift our response to failure away from placing blame — on ourselves or others — and refocus on a different choice. When we don’t have a clear view of “why,” we tend to make decisions based on trying to figure out “how” to fix what we did “wrong” last time…and we end up stuck.
Listening is another important aspect of understanding. How well do you listen? Rate yourself here.
Asking “why” questions allows us to get up, dust ourselves off and move past our failures, and knowing “why” provides the inspiration, motivation and the courage to keep going.
Have you experienced a time when asking “why” helped you out of a place where you were stuck and you didn’t know “how” you would ever make it? Share your story or ask a question in the comments.