If you tuned into the TV coverage of the 2014 London Marathon you would have heard broadcaster Brendan Foster berating Mo Farah, before he had even finished the race. His advice was that he should give up on marathons and get back onto the track where he is indisputably the best in the world at 10,000 metres. The reason for his advice: Farah in his first ever marathon came in 8th with a time of 2:08.21. In Foster’s eyes Farah had failed. Yet when Mo was interviewed minutes after he crossed the finishing line, his take on his performance was somewhat different. Rather than seeing his result as a message to give up, his response was that doing less than he had hoped for was no reason for giving in, but rather a motivator to do better next time. He immediately focused on what he had learnt from running the race, that would help him in his next marathon. For him the point at which he should stop running marathons was when he had established that he could succeed, not the point at which he was just beginning to learn how to run a 26 mile race.
His response was a 21st century version of Thomas Edison’s reply to critics who lambasted him for the 1o,000 experiments it took to perfect a functioning electric light bulb. “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work. For Edison those 10,000 experiments were opportunities to learn, not humiliating failures.
The idea of failure is not one we are comfortable with as adults, and yet it is the only way in which we learn. A baby could not learn to walk without being willing to fall over time and time again. Rock bands that last, have stories of dire performances on the way to success, in contrast to the short lived fame of those scooped from obscurity into instant stardom via TV No comedian can succeed without the learning from dismal performances to unenthralled audiences. It is only when we open up to the possibility of failing as a necessary stepping stone on the way to success, that we can succeed.