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Maybe "failure" is the key to success...?


Bronze Contributor
Jul 24, 2007
I was writing a practice prompt for the SATs a few weeks ago, and I was intrigued by the topic for the prompt. The introduction and question were this:
Directions: Think carefully about the issue presented in the following paragraph and respond to the assignment below. You have 25 minutes.
Sometimes in life, we lose.

Abraham Lincoln lost numerous congressional elections before he went on to become President of the United States. Henry Ford went bankrupt and lost his ownership in The Detroit Automobile Company before ultimately succeeding with the Ford Motor Company. Michael Jordan’s basketball teams endured many heartbreaking playoff losses before becoming World Champions six times over.

Maybe losing in the secret ingredient to success?
I thought it was a very interesting topic, and I considered starting a thread on it here at TFTM, but I never did because I thought it had been mentioned before. After reading Jorge's post in which he mentions learning from failure, I figured that I should post this: my response to the SAT prompt. I only had 25 minutes to write it, so forgive any errors that may be in it as I just kinda threw it together.

I think this is a point that should be reiterated over and over, so hopefully this thread helps in doing so. Also, I thought that it deserved its own thread like the other key points Jorge mentioned. Anyway, here are my thoughts:
In many instances, the key to success revolves around failure. Often, successful businessmen, athletes, and other professionals have undergone a period of “failure”. However, to them, this was not a failure; it was a learning experience.

Failure usually precedes success. For one to succeed, they must know of the struggles of failing. Many times, failure provides motivation for one to succeed. Motivation is derived from two sources: inside one's mind and from desperation. Failure often creates a sense of desperation for a person, which provides them with the necessary motivation to succeed. When Michael Jordan was cut from his varsity basketball team in high school, he did not view it as a failure like many would have. Instead, he learned from the mistakes he had made and used it as motivation to become the greatest basketball player of all-time. Failure helps inspire one to succeed; in that sense, failure is an essential factor to success.

Additionally, when one “fails”, it is usually in a manner that can be taken it two directions. If one takes it negatively, as most people would, they will likely lose all hope and give up. However, if the failure is accepted as a learning experience, the one who is failing will be better off. They will use it to drive their success and become better for it. As the classic proverb states, “what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger.” If this lesson is applied to failure, then “failing” occasionally is actually a good thing. Failure itself is not a problem; the impact of failure is determined by how the person who fails reacts to the situation.

In summation, when failure occurs at the right time or to the right person, it is not a problem. In fact, many success stories have been built by failure at some point during the journey. For one to succeed, they are better off having experienced the worst of things; this way, they will yearn for the best and accept nothing less than that.

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Last edited:


Bronze Contributor
Oct 5, 2007
Mendoza, Argentina
Great response Yanks! rep+++ (this is becoming routine!)

Personally I would add choices. This people took failure as learning, I think that's a choice, and a really good one!

PS: I'm linking this thread from mine
EDIT: You already did :p


Bronze Contributor
Jul 24, 2007
Great response Yanks! rep+++ (this is becoming routine!)

Personally I would add choices. This people took failure as learning, I think that's a choice, and a really good one!

PS: I'm linking this thread from mine
EDIT: You already did :p
Thanks! And yes, it is becoming routine! haha

I'm linking my post to yours as well; I thought I did before, but apparently it slipped my mind.


Legendary Contributor
Speedway Pass
Aug 24, 2007
Good response... (rep++)

In my opinion, success is about two things:

- Ability
- Opportunity

Everyone either has or can create the ability to be successful; and everyone has or can create the opportunity to be successful.

You control your ability to be successful by studying, practicing, getting experience, and overall effort towards bettering yourself and your chances of being successful.

And you control your opportunity to be successful by not giving up. The person who gives up after the first failure has one opportunity for success. The person that gives up after 20 failures has 20 opportunities for success. The person who gives up after 10,000 failures has 10,000 opportunities for success.

People who maximize their ability and their opportunity have more chance of success than those who only maximize their ability (those give up quickly) or only maximize their opportunity (they keep trying but don't learn anything from their experiences). If you only maximize one or the other, your chances for success are greatly reduced. And, of course, those who don't maximize their ability *or* their opportunity are destined not to succeed.

So, if you want to be successful, maximize your ability (study, practice, learn, grow) and maximize your opportunity (don't ever give up).

Just my $.02...


Bronze Contributor
Aug 4, 2007
A great read on a related topic is Seth Godin's "The Dip". It's about the point where things become hard, and most give up. It's about making sure that continuing is the right course of action, and then pushing through "the dip" to get the rewards that all the quitters left behind.

Funnily enough, it's also about quitting strategically. Failing/quitting on purpose when there's a more productive thing you should be doing.



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