Go forth and fail!

‘Tis that time of year. Commencement speakers are in full bloom. They exhort the grads to march out and conquer the world. If you can dream it you can do it, they tell the kids.

Do you remember anything your commencement speakers said? Do you remember who spoke? I’m with you. Worse, I don’t even remember what I had to say at the many graduations where I spoke.

Not totally true. These days my remarks are so brief I can actually recall what I’ve said. And that is: Go forth and fall on your face.

Of course, the bluntness is meant to get the grads’ attention. Further, I suggest they remember only two words from the address. Only two. Later.

The basic message is that failure is good. They should hope to fail at many things. Because the most valuable things we learn come from failures of some sort.



You learned to walk because you failed at it a thousand times. Every time you tumbled, your brain and body learned something. You learned to handle knives with care. After you failed and sliced your finners, you did. You learned to walk down stairs. After running nearly broke your neck.

We learn from successes, yes. But we learn more from our failures. Failure teaches us to never try that again. Or to do it differently. To work harder. Or to try another approach. Or to keep our noses and fingers out of those situations.

One of my favorite stories is of a famous man who built a huge insurance enterprise in Chicago. He loved to listen to updates from his top people. Often they reported problems. Or losses. Or failures. His reaction was always “Good! Good! We won’t make that mistake again.” He knew that every failure contained valuable lessons. He delighted in those lessons.

I love the company of successful entrepreneurs. They all know failure. Many suffer bankruptcies. They are plagued with disappointments. Competitors outsmart them. Customers desert them. Promising products flop. Investors pull out. Friends cheat them. Customers don’t pay. And that is just what happened this month.

Most of them have a simple attitude. You cannot build a house without banging your finger. And it is the banging of your fingers that teaches you how to succeed.

So go forth and fail! That is what I suggest to those kids with beaming faces. Those yearning to hear this guy finish. So they can get on with the photos with Mom and Dad. And out of the garb. And on with the parties. You have so much to learn, I suggest. So go forth and fail! So long as you learn from your failures.

I ask them to remember but two words. Fear not.

Our fears bedevil us. They are the wet blankets that smother our dreams. Lots of wise people have warned us: All we have to fear is fear itself. Those who conquer fear conquer all. And all that.

Well, they are right. Caution, yes. Judgment, yes. Tread with care, yes. But fear? Confront your fears. Kick ’em in the teeth when you can. Keep them from keeping you from having a go.

The more you loosen the grip of fear, the more adventures you will enjoy. And the more flops on your schnoz you will experience. The more flops, the more you will learn.

Study the great leaders. The most successful among us in every field. Look into their eyes. You won’t find fear in them.

Fear not. Go for it.

From Tom…as in Morgan.

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