“If you haven’t failed, you’re doing something wrong.”

I decided a few weeks ago that that would make a great slogan to put on a t-shirt.  Or a coffee mug.  Or a poster that should be hanging on the wall of everyone who dreams of great achievements or significant accomplishments in any area of their lives.

Below that main slogan, two more lines could be added. “Give yourself permission to dream.” And “Give yourself permission to fail.”

Other than political parties and issues, I know of few subjects that inspire such polar-opposite opinions in people as the subject of dreamers. To some people, dreamers  are the wannabe’s and also-ran’s of life – people who sit around with their head in the clouds and their feet up on the coffee table, frittering their lives away longing for things they’ll never have, and wishing for a world that will never be. They’re the kind of people who are always saying things like, “Someday I’m going to be a star,” or “Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where there were no wars, and where no one ever went to bed hungry?” – but never doing anything about it.

Others see dreamers as innovators and visionaries – the movers and shakers of the world. People like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison, who dream of a world without violence or racial prejudice, or of changing the world in more tangible, concrete ways.

Both types of dreamers exist, of course. The irony is that while people in one group may sit back and dream of changing the world or of becoming stars, it’s those in the other group who are more likely to do so. And a further irony is that they often aren’t thinking in terms of becoming celebrities or of changing the world. They’re focused on fixing just one small aspect of it.

The difference between the two groups can be explained in one word: action. Dreaming – and dreaming big – is certainly the right place to start. But if you never do anything except sit around dreaming of what you
might do or how things could be, nothing is ever going to happen. When you start taking action, however, even if your steps are hesitant at first or if you’re not sure you’re doing the right thing – that’s when change will occur.
Small changes at first. Then bigger ones. Then the kind of changes that set the world on fire.

As someone who has spent several years now coaching people in pursuit of their dreams, I’ve seen achievements and accomplishments that can only be described as miraculous. Unbelievable. Life-changing. Even so, I’ve seen over and over again that nothing ever happens in one fell swoop, or in a straight path that gets anyone from here to there with no stumbling, slip-ups, confusion or course-correcting along the way.

At a meeting a few weeks ago of an organization whose goal is to foster communication and support among groups with similar goals and passions, we were talking about how often people fail in their initial attempts at something before they succeed at it. And how different – yet enormously satisfying and enriching – the end result usually is compared with whatever they were envisioning in the first place. This, by the way, is what inspired my slogan about failing.

In his book, “Poke the Box,” Seth Godin states that the person who fails the most usually wins. And we all know the story about Thomas Edison that validates this statement. If Edison hadn’t failed as many times as he did, we’d all still be sitting in the dark.

So on the road to success – however you define that to be – I encourage you to fail. Enjoy your failures. Celebrate them. But most important, learn from them. Then make whatever changes you need to make, set a new course or just make a slight adjustment in this one. Then head out again in pursuit of your next failure. When you do this, I promise that you will eventually succeed. Beyond whatever you’re aware of or capable of right now. Beyond the horizon and anything you can see in the immediate or foreseeable future. And – without a doubt – beyond your wildest dreams.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was
published on June 21, 2012.

© Betty Liedtke, 2012

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