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What Would You Do If Failure Were Optional?

Updated: Jun 29

“I never fail.

I ether win or I learn.”

-Nelson Mandela

One of my Happy Places is my Saturday morning art class.

Once a week, I get together with half dozen or so friends in the studio, drink coffee, catch up on each other’s lives, and paint.

The other day, as I worked on a pet portrait, I heard our teacher talking to The New Student.

“Marie, oh no! What happened?” Barb asked.

Marie shook her head and said, “I wiped it out. It looked terrible.”

“But…you’ve been working on that painting for hours! You were making progress!”

“No. It’s no good. I think this is too advanced for me,” said Marie, resigned. “I need to go back to the basics. I’m not ready for painting the things I really want to paint.”

I bit my tongue.

I have certainly thrown away my fair share of failed attempts. It took me awhile, but I finally learned that every work of art goes through an awkward adolescent phase — the equivalent of braces, voice breaks, and pimples — before it develops into something really unique and beautiful.

Just like every human masterpiece does.

How often do we “scrap” our initial efforts and mistakes as failures, throwing them away and berating ourselves all the while?

And how often, like Marie, do we not do the thing we really want to do, create what we really want to create, because we’re afraid of “failing?”

Ahh, Not Good Enough rears its ugly head.


When I look back, I’ve certainly made a lot of mistakes in my life. In fact, some of them were really tough. But I don’t look at my mistakes as “failures” anymore. I may not have realized it at the time but, in hindsight, most of my mistakes have led to learning or to success.

I “failed” my first foray into management. Pretty spectacularly, as a matter of fact.

I had been a high performing salesperson who was rewarded with a promotion into management. My formal training included lunch with my boss, a handshake, and an enthusiastic pat on the back, “You’ll be great!”

That’s it.

Friday afternoon, Mike, Steve, Michelle and I were colleagues, peers, friends.

Monday morning, I was their boss.


I was 100% enthusiasm. And had no clue what I was doing.

I cried a lot those first few months. I used to be great at my job — highly competent, credible, confident. And now? Overnight, I was awful — incompetent, lost and uncertain.

A failure.

But, even then, I knew that I didn’t have to stay stuck in failure.

So I decided and, finally, took action. Back then, I didn’t yet have the experience or skills to lead.

But I was An Excellent Student. I could learn them.

That particular “failure,” while painful at the time, came with gifts for decades to follow.

  • Out of desperation, I read every management book I could get my hands on, and attended every course I could afford. In the process, I got hooked on helping others learn skills to get better results. That passion set me on the path to a long career in professional training and development, which I love to this day.

  • I gained insight and empathy to help newly promoted managers in the same situation.

  • The experience shaped my ability to help busy people take small, do-able actions to lead happier, more meaningful lives - which paved the way for my Decide Happy mission.

“Failure is nothing more than the path to success.”

Everybody has a Day 1 at something.

How can we expect to be perfect the first time out?

Your first anything will be bad.

The first time you drive a car.

The first time you play tennis.

The first time you step on stage.

The first time you interview for a job.

We can’t get good at anything without starting. And that means taking action and trying new things out. And sometimes, that means failing.

My cousin Dianne is an amazing potter. She hand-creates beautiful porcelain art that any of us would be proud to display in our homes.

“Pottery is full of unexpected results because you are working with intense heat. Stuff happens. Cracks, explosions, glaze problems, misfires.” she told me, as we walked through her studio. She pointed to a rack of misshapen pieces and the sign over it that read, in big, bold lettering,“Oh, No! Not another learning experience!”

“I’ve had this sign in my studio since I began this journey,” she said, picking up a sweet, lumpy, little misfit vase. “That’s how I see work that doesn’t turn out the way I want. Another learning experience. I save those pieces for a while for the lessons they hold.”

What if we redefined failure?

What if now, failure means not trying? Failure means settling?

If we're trying and taking action then, even if we blow it, we haven’t failed.

What has been your biggest “failure?”

  • Is there something you learned from this?

  • Is there a gift in the experience that has set you on a different, happier course in life?

  • How has it helped you, and shaped who you are today?

Keep striving. Keep “failing.” Keep learning.

With so much Love,


Decide Happy is now available in paperback, e-Book, and Audio, wherever books are sold, including Amazon.


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130 views2 comments


This will be an enclosure to an upcoming graduation card.

Susan Hall
Susan Hall
a day ago
Replying to

I'm so glad this struck a cord with you, Sandy.


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