Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success Humility Personal Management Shepherding

By John C. Maxwell

It’s been over 20 years since Failing Forward was first published, and “failing forward” is still a popular phrase used in business and education circles today. And for good reason.  It’s a hopeful word picture of someone tripping, or stumbling, yet still making progress toward their goal.

The main theme: “The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure.” – John Maxwell.

There are many inspiring personal success-after-failure stories of famous people you will likely recognize throughout the book, mixed with clear teaching principles in list form.

I found four major principles that capture the essence of the book:

  • Redefine failure and success. Maxwell challenges common definitions and offers new ones. One such definition states that failure is not an event. It’s a subjective label for how you handle life, and you determine the label.  
  • Failure is an inside job. A lot of pages are devoted to accepting responsibility for your mistakes and having the right mindset to move on.  He challenges you to face how you deal with failures by clearly calling out a list of self-defeating behaviors such as expecting you won’t fail again or accepting tradition blindly.
  • Embrace failure and learn from it.  Maxwell lists a handful of benefits that experiencing failure can bring and backs them up with true stories. Maxwell warns of the “fear cycle” and finding yourself in paralysis. He adamantly stresses that risks need to be taken and are to be evaluated by the value of the goal. He closes out this section with a list of questions to ask yourself after a failure that will help you learn from it and move on.
  • Top 10 reasons people fail. I found this list very interesting as a teacher, because I could clearly see certain students acting out these behaviors, as well as recognizing my own self-defeating beliefs and actions.  A few from his list included a weak commitment, response to poor information, a bad fit, relying on talent alone and poor people skills.

Maxwell wraps up his last section with a few one-liners worth remembering:

  • Work on the weaknesses that weaken you.
  • The little difference between failure and success makes a big difference. (He goes on to explain that little difference is persistence)
  • It’s what you do after you get up that counts.

This is a book I will keep in my professional library.I love how the list format makes it a quick reference book.  As Maxwell stated many times, failure isn’t something we can avoid. It will happen. And although the disappointment is inevitable, we need to quickly get past the pain and learn from it and move on to the next thing.  This book will be on the shelf to help remind me how to grow through failure.

-Jan Jones

Here is a short video by John Maxwell about possibilities and failure: