||:Leaders Creating:||
6 min readMay 18, 2021



written by Gary Rupert, Leadership Coach & Culture Strategist for ||:Leaders Creating:||

Success is learned from missing the ball

When I was a child, I learned to walk by falling…a lot! I learned to hit a ball by missing it...a lot! And I learned to throw a ball by missing my target...a lot! But despite all those failures I learned to walk, hit a ball, and throw. I did not learn to do all those things through the descriptions of how they were to be done. I learned them by trying and failing, repeatedly. Cognitively, we understand that our most meaningful lessons come through failure. So, I wonder why we have such a difficult time accepting failure?

The problem? Society tends to celebrate success rather than highlighting the epic journeys toward success that are filled with trials, setbacks, and failures (see The Trajectory Towards Success). In truth, we need those journeys and the adversity they bring. It does not matter whether your objectives are in art, business, sports, or relationships, the only way you can get ahead is to fail early, fail often, and fail forward.

Author and leadership expert John Maxwell tells us in Failing Forward, “Most people will grudgingly concede that they must make it through some adversity in order to succeed. They will acknowledge that they have to experience the occasional setback to make progress. But I believe that success comes only if you take that thought one step farther. To achieve your dreams, you must embrace adversity and make failure a regular part of your life. If you are not failing, you are probably not really moving forward.”

The idea that you can embrace failure may seem odd to you. But in truth, failure is either your friend or your enemy….and you are the one who chooses which it is. If you feel defeated by your failure, it will remain your enemy. If you determine to learn from your failures, then actually benefit from them, failure will become your friend. As Benjamin Franklin told us, “The things which hurt, instruct.”

At this point you might be saying, “Okay, Gary, how do I learn to embrace failure?” Anyone can make failure a friend by maintaining a teachable attitude and using a strategy for learning from failure. Maxwell shares with us this list of questions from Failing Forward to help us learn from a bad experience and make it a good experience.

What caused the failure: the situation, someone else, or self? — You cannot find out what you can do unless you do all you can to find out what went wrong.

Was what happened truly a failure, or did I just fall short? — What you think is your fault may have been an attempt to fulfill unrealistic expectations. If a goal is unrealistic and you miss it, that is not a failure.

What successes are contained in the failure? — No matter what kind of failure you experience, there is always a potential diamond of success contained in it (see Diamonds or Dust?). It may be difficult to find. But you can discover it if you are willing to look for it.

What can I learn from what happened? Too often we are so consumed by the adversity of our journey that we miss the whole learning experience. But there is always a way to learn from failures and mistakes.

Am I grateful for the experience? — One way to maintain a teachable mind-set is to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. As you come away from failures, be grateful for the lesson it taught you in defeat.

How can I turn this into a success? — Determining what went wrong in a situation has value. But taking that analysis another step and figuring out how to use it to your benefit is the real difference maker when it comes to failing forward.

Who can help me with this issue? — They say there are two kinds of learning: experience, which is gained from your own mistakes, and wisdom, which is learned from the mistakes of others. I recommend that you learn from the mistakes of others as much as possible.

Where do I go from here? — Once you have done all the thinking, you have got figure out what to do next. In their book Everyone’s a Coach, Don Shula and Ken Blanchard state, “Learning is defined as a change in behavior. You haven’t learned a thing until you can take action and use it.”


As educators we have all seen the bright light in the eyes of the student who “gets it.” We have also seen that light go dark in the eyes of the student who sees his or herself as a failure. Learning to grow in the face of failure can be a challenging and daunting task; one which is often difficult to navigate alone. We can make their journey more difficult by only celebrating the successes or we can teach them how to embrace failure. As Dave Anderson, founder of Famous Dave’s BBQ Restaurant reminds us, “Failure is the hallmark of success. It can be the starting point of a new venture, such as when a baby learns to walk; it has to fall down a lot to learn the new skill. Failure is also the mark of a success you have worked for. When a pole vaulter finally misses in competition, it shows how far he has come. That failure becomes the starting point for his next effort, proving that failure is not final.” We have a responsibility to our students to help them find the starting point after each failure. If they really want to achieve their dreams — I mean really achieve them, not just daydream or talk about them — they have got to get out there and fail. Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward. Teach them to turn their mistakes into steppingstones for success.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We at ||:Leaders Creating:|| value the opportunity to engage with our readers, clients, colleagues, and friends. Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments section!

Gary L. Rupert was a music educator for 40 years and was most recently the Band Director at Smithsburg High School in Smithsburg, Maryland where his bands consistently achieved Superior ratings at local, state and national levels. He is a sought-after conductor and adjudicator in the areas of symphonic bands and jazz ensembles. An avid blogger whose daily entries are followed by people in over 57 countries, Mr. Rupert is the author of a daily inspirational book for students and teachers, “Today, No Every Day.” He is also a sought after speaker on leadership, motivation and creating a positive learning environment.

Gary Rupert has been named an Outstanding Maryland Music Educator, a Teacher of Excellence in both the Frederick and Washington County public schools, and has been twice nominated as a Disney Teacher of Excellence.

Gary can be reached at garyr@leaderscreating.com

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