3 Steps to Frame Failure into Success

It’s guest post Monday. This post is written by Alex Barker who writes at The Leadership Dojo.

Failure ruins my life. My poor decisions ruin my happiness, joy, success and health.

I used to believe that. I avoided failure with a passion. The world went into slow motion when I failed.

But, failure is impossible to avoid. A staple leadership lesson is to “Fail forward” as John Maxwell brilliantly states. In other words, take your mistakes and learn from them.

Failure is only an awful idea if you let it.

Here is a simple 3 step guide to walk thru when you fail.

1) Remove yourself from the situation

Failure can ruin the day if you’re like me.

I was late on a major project for my job. I completely forgot about it. I remembered on the day that it was due. I frantically emailed my supervisor about the situation. I luckily turned out the sloppy project.

That night I couldn’t fall asleep. Anxiety overtook me. I was awake until 5 AM.

Failure defeats people by allowing them to stew in the pot of failure. I wallow too long in the pit of despair. And the pit only has a few ways out.

Here are ways to remove yourself from the pit of failure:

– Speak with an encouraging friend or family member

– Read a book (Isaiah 41)

– Listen to music ( I recommend something that gives you goosepimples or makes you dance. I dance to Idea of Happiness – Sebastian Remix by Van She)

– Intense prayer

– Go out to eat

– Take a long walk

– Listen to an encouraging podcast

– Write 10 things you are thankful for

– Buy a gift for someone

I was recently asked in a podcast interview, “What’s worse? Failure or never trying?”

I answered failure is worse because failure is the end of the world if your mindset isn’t accustomed to dealing with failure. But, never trying can lead to a lifetime regrets in the long run.

2) Ask yourself “What does this failure make possible?”

I broke my word to a new job a few months ago.

In short, I told a company that I would work for them, but I backed out near the last minute. I blogged about all the emotions and lessons I learned here.


Doubt plagued my mind. I felt like the ultimate failure. I was scared by what other colleagues would think of me. I thought my career of pharmacy was over in Michigan.

After my wife slapped me out of that short-term depression, I asked myself, “What does this make possible?”

Saying no to this job made the following possible:
1 – Potential to make more money

2 – Better hours with a new job (the job I said no to would likely be 50+ hours/week)

3 – Opportunity to look for a new job

4 – I didn’t have to work in Detroit
5 – My wife and I could think about having another child sooner

Ask yourself, “What does this failure make possible?” This is an excellent way to paint a failure as a success. In a positive light.

FYI – After this “failure”, I found a job that 1) paid almost 3x the original job, 2) had better hours (45-50), 3) close to my hometown, 4) allowed my wife and I to consider growing our family sooner

3) Do the next right thing

I had an amazing pastor and mentor in college. He was excellent at boiling down complex concepts to a simple phrase.

Years ago he spoke on the journey of Joseph and Mary’s parenthood. Joseph faced inconceivable challenges and culturally-defined failures.

When I say culturally-defined failures, I mean our cultural now, and back then, does not believe that a child birthed out of wedlock is successful. I have a tendency to look down at teen pregnancies. I hate admitting that.

Think about the culturally-defined failures Joseph had to live through

Pregnant fiancé, and the baby isn’t his

Fiancé is pregnant with God in flesh (what?)

An angel shows up and tells him what to do (who gets that treatment? I don’t!)

Has to give birth to God in a barn (stinky)

Move to Egypt, an enemy country, and doesn’t have any job lined up (not a great plan by human standards)

These decisions, by cultural standards from ancient times to now, are viewed as failures.

I wonder if Joseph thought, “What did I do to deserve this?”

He may have thought that, but his decisions displayed a belief that his “failures” did not define his future.

A lesson from Joseph’s story is he did the next right thing. He didn’t disobey God’s commands to him. He didn’t worry about the consequences.

When I am faced with a failure, I think about what is the next right thing for me to do. It’s so easy to think about the consequences of mistakes. That’s falling back into the pit of despair. Remove yourself from the pit by taking the next step.

Joseph took the next right steps. Those steps defined our world’s future thru Jesus.

For everyone else who isn’t the step-father of God, learn from Joseph’s example and take the next step.

Question: What is the next right thing for you?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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33 thoughts on “3 Steps to Frame Failure into Success

  1. I like the emphasis on just doing the next right thing. I’ve found that I may not know where the path may lead, but I almost always know what my next step should be. Good post, Alex!

  2. Great post! #3 is my favorite. If I were Mary or Joseph I would probably have wondered “why me”. But like you said, we have to just do the next right thing. We can’t go around problems, we have to go through them.

  3. “I answered failure is worse because failure is the end of the world if
    your mindset isn’t accustomed to dealing with failure. But, never trying
    can lead to a lifetime regrets in the long run.”

    Never trying *is* failure – failing to act. Just my perspective, but I’d rather fail, pick up, dust myself off, learn the lesson in humility, be grateful for having learned something, and move on to the next opportunity. It would be wonderful to say that I’ve lived that all my life, but I’ve had a lot of never trying moments as well – hence the perspective.

  4. Great to see you on Dan’s blog. It has been great to connect with you recently. Sometimes things that look like failures today turn out not to be with the perspective of some time. If I hadn’t make a career misstep, we wouldn’t have moved back to Chicago and adopted our son. There is a plan…there is a plan…

  5. I like the suggestion of reading a book, especially Isaiah 41! When I get down because of some failure in my life I find the Psalms are a great encouragement.

  6. We have a saying in my house when someone makes a mistake: “Learn from it & move on.” Sometimes, we move on from mistakes never learning from then. Learning needs to happen in order for the mistake to have value. Doesn’t have to be a huge lesson. Moving on is key too. So many people get stuck after making a mistake. The fail to learn and to move on. A mistake has no value if these things don’t happen. Simple? Yes. Easy? Not always.

  7. Amen. A person who has never failed is a person that has never tried. Of all the dumb things I’ve done out of ignorance and even ego, God has used to bring wisdom. There is no failing, only learning… And I love to learn…

      • The greatest lesson I’ve learned is that God is sovereign and His will must be our priority as we follow our passions. And that there is no losing as long as were trying. Winning is measured over a lifetime by perseverance and passion.

  8. Hi Alex,

    It takes me few years back 😉

    I was a person suffering from procrastination 😉 Mostly at school, as yet I’m quite new to working environment. Probably, I might have thought I have enough time. I made ’em all, but they were not qualitative enough as I predicted.

    I failed at some points in my studies, and the two choices left were fighting back or giving up. Finally, I’ve made the graduation along with all my other classmates who were successful in each step 😉 Actually, I didn’t think of the whole image but did the next best thing. SO, I’ll second your 3rd point.

    It got me working hard and helped me finding my strengths. Hence, I don’t consider it as a fail but taking a step ahead. I believe being failed after trying is not a fail at all. We can learn enough from it. Now I apply what I’ve learnt when I deal with clients and I’m glad that I’m not the person I used to be 😉

    You both have a nice day there, Alex and Dan :)


  9. I love this post, Alex. It really helps to read about failure in your own life, plus you provided so many great tips. I’m looking forward to checking out the Isaiah chapter and the music you suggested (love the dancing idea!). I have struggled with fear of failure (and failure!) like crazy for the past year and a half since I started blogging. God has taught me so much through it – things I couldn’t have learned through instant success. Thanks for your post. I’m going to go back now and check out those tips again.

    • Glad you enjoyed this post (Sorry for the late response, your comment feel through the cracks). Your doing great things at your blog, keep moving through your fears because God wants to use you greatly!!! Thank you for reading and sharing.