In Europe, the fear of making a mistake can a painful, or even paralysing experience. Unlike our American friends who acknowledge the virtues of failure, we all tend to put in place various strategies to avoid error at all cost, even if that means holding ourselves back and limiting ourselves. That is why, today, I would like you to read again what Michael Jordan said about his own failures. Because while you are sure to know this quote already, it really can help you take giant leaps forward…
Considered to be the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan has a record so impressive that some rank him as the greatest champion of all time, all sports combined. But while his style of play has blown away everyone who has seen him on a court, the hero of the Dream Team has given plenty of tips about failure, which, according to him, is the key to his success:
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career and 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.”
Why do we need to pin up this quote, to read it and read it again until we know it by heart? Because it tells us of the need to overcome our fear of failure in order to progress towards realising our dreams. Whether we are perfectionists or procrastinators, and whether we tend to read a file three times over before we hand it in, or anticipate each detail before taking a decision, we are nearly all held back by the fear of making mistakes. This attitude, which is generally acquired at school and put down to professionalism, can become problematic when it slows down our decision-making or when it plunges us into a state of anxiety and of uneasiness when the error happens anyway.
So what is Michael Jordan telling us?
Firstly, that we are not defined by our errors or mistakes: his team lost 26 times because of him, and nobody has held it against him or suggested he should be stripped of his title. It is possible to be talented, well trained and super-motivated, and still make your team lose. It happens, and does not call everything into question.
That we have to try hundreds of times before we succeed. It is by missing over and over again that we practice and that we ultimately hit our target. Each missed shot brings us closer to victory.
That we should not be afraid of losing, but, on the contrary, we should accept, from the outset, the possibility that we might make an error. As my grandma used to say, “A man who never made a mistake never made anything.” When starting a game or a match, we can never be sure we will win it. The same is true for an important service or negotiation: the risk of failure exists, but if we get it wrong this time, we might succeed better next time, and such a failure does not call our skills and abilities into question.
Once liberated from the fear of getting it wrong, we can progress faster and more calmly along our chosen path. We shake off our perfectionist attitudes, we stop putting important decisions off until tomorrow and we regain self-confidence. It then only remains to stay focused and do everything we can to win the game, while putting the stakes back into perspective. And as Michael would say: “I’ve always believed that if you put in the work, the results will come.” The ball’s in your court!