Failure Often Precedes Success

We remember the great moments of Michael Jordan, but countless failures led to his success.

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” — Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, was a failure.

We remember the spectacular slam dunks, the heart-stopping game winning shots and his ability to reach an other-worldly level of play in the biggest moments. We don’t remember the more frequent failures. It seems almost sacrilegious to bring them up, but even his failures are inspiring.

When you think of failure, do you cringe and even die a little inside? We are wired to avoid failure like the plague, but as is often the case, what we seek to avoid is often the fastest route to success.

Jordan understood this from an early age when he was deemed too short to play on his high school varsity team as a sophomore. He grew four inches the following year, but he grew even more as a player motivated by failure. He became the star of his JV team, took the varsity team by storm the following year and never looked back.

What drove Jordan was an intense desire to win. No obstacle withstood his scrutiny. No challenge went unmet. “My attitude is that if you push me towards something that you think is a weakness, then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength.”

Jordan is famous for practicing as he played, full throttle all the way. “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” He literally tried everything during practice. He failed then so he could succeed when it mattered most. “If you do the work you get rewarded. There are no shortcuts in life.”

Despite Jordan’s great success in the NBA, he and the Bulls were defeated several times in the playoffs or the championship by storied Celtics and Pistons teams. Despite spectacular individual performances, record breaking feats and one award after another, it took Jordan and the Bulls seven long years to finally win a championship. “Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.”

Accepting failure was necessary, but Jordan never settled for it. “Always turn a negative situation into a positive situation.” He learned from every failure. He let it fuel future success. He refused to accept defeat. “I’ve never lost a game I just ran out of time.”

Michael Jordan is a microcosm of success through failure. He learned one of the most important lessons in life and leveraged it for greatness with talent and unrivaled persistence.

What is the lesson?

“To learn to succeed, you must first learn to fail.”