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  • Writer's pictureVera Jo Bustos

How to Fail Forward

March 2007.

It’s my senior year donning the Green & Gold of West Las Vegas High School. My Lady Dons are playing in the quarterfinals in the famous Pit of Lobo Nation. “This is it,” I tell myself. “All my hard work and countless hours spent in the gym have come down to this moment.” I run down the steep ramp descending onto The Pit floor to hear the crowd of 8,000+ strong erupt in applause.

And then. . .

A loss.

A failure.

Just like that. My high school basketball season is over. Again. By my thinking, it had been 5 years falling short of the ultimate dream. To be crowned New Mexico State Champion and hoist the New Mexico shaped blue-trophy and wave the Championship banner.

As a matter of fact, every single basketball season I have ever played ended in defeat. That’s 10 failures—as a player, as a team.

Each time, every time, I chose to fail forward. Had I not, I wouldn’t have found other successes in my career. I won’t bore you of what I believe those successes to be, but I will say, the success we choose to see after those failures are what mean the most.

We all fail.

We don’t all fail forward.

But we can learn how.

I have always desired a deeper meaning and demanded a why behind the what. As a basketball player, I was usually the athlete that needed to know why we were doing a specific drill. How was this drill going to help me in a game situation? To become a better player? My desire to dive a little deeper into the intricacies and intangibles of the game often provided me with esoteric knowledge. I take this same approach with the mental game. I need to understand the why behind the what.

One of my biggest pet peeves as an athlete was when a coach, mentor, or leader would slap on a positive phrase or all-too-common motivational quote and expect the words to have some kind of magical effect on me—fixing my mindset, negative self-talk, doubts and limitations with a single sentence.

Now don’t get it twisted, I believe there is a need for these positive phrases and motivational quotes. I just demand to know the meaning behind it. One of the common statements I teach in my curriculum is failing forward. So, let’s take a deep dive into the why of failing, shall we?

The greatest successes in the world, from Olympic athletes to business leaders, to the teachers and mentors who make an immense impact on our lives, were always preceded by incredible failures. Deep down, we know this to be true, and have heard countless stories by those we look up to about how they overcame challenges and adversities. Yet, in our own lives, we avoid our own failures like the plague.

Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly.

To fail forward means to purposefully and strategically use our failures to point us in the direction of our success. It’s a conscious process that first requires us to set aside our ego and give up the obsessive need to be perfect.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t practice or prepare. It doesn’t mean we should stray away from defining our Mistake Response Routine to anticipate challenges or mistakes, or assess risk. To fail forward, we must break out of the confines of our Dead Zone (aka comfort zone).

Your dream of starting your own business? Dare to pursue.

Your goal of publishing a book? Dare to try.

Your idea of going back to school? Dare to GO.

Above all else: Dare to fail.

Be kind to yourself during your process. Give yourself permission to struggle, to not have it all figured out. I don’t believe failure is what holds us back. I believe it is the fear of that failure that debilitates us into not even trying to go after our dreams, goals, and ideas.

It’s not easy to fail. It’s even harder to rebound after a failure. Dusting ourselves off after a failure and pushing back full steam ahead is a skill, not a trait. I’m learning to fail forward on a daily basis, not only for myself but for my clients as well.

Hindsight is a great teacher. Looking back, my risks have always led to bigger rewards, even though it may not have felt like it at the time. Failing will seem hard at first, until you learn to view it differently. I often have to assess what my current relationship looks like with failure. Then, I have to redefine my definition of failure and use it to Fail Forward.

Each failure was a bar broken off the cage of my “Dead Zone.” Giving me the courage to step out into the endless possibilities and endless pursuits of continuing to dream—without the debilitating fear of failure.

That is my superpower.

And remember: The moments that challenge us are often our greatest teachers.

I am forever grateful for those 10 seasons that ended in failure. In hindsight, they paved the way for my future success.

If you would like to learn more about failing forward and overcoming fear of failure, inquire about our curriculums: Tame Your Fear and Mindset of Confidence.

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