Failing to First Place: How failure can promote your success

Failure is a key to success

Unlock your key to success

Failure is something that invokes fear in us and that we often seek to avoid. However, if properly embraced failure can catapult us to our success. In the video below we see Heather Dorniden (now Heather Kampf) fall on her face in her second lap of the Women’s 600 meter run. Yet instead of being immobilized by her failure, Heather pushed herself up off the ground, focused on rebuilding her momentum, and eventually finished in first place! Heather’s effective response to failure catapulted her into winning the race and winning the hearts of millions of people around the world who learned of her success through the youtube video. In an interview with Brent Yarina of, Heather offers us insights about how we can use our big and small  failures to promote ourselves to first place as well.

The Gifts of Failure

Failure teaches us things we have not previously understood about ourselves and our world.

Failure reveals what is missing or incomplete in our understanding . Approaching our failure like a scientist or engineer will help us to learn key components to our success from failure. This requires asking ourselves important questions and answering honestly. “Why didn’t we get the result we were expecting?” “How do we need to adjust our understanding or behavior to get better success?” Even when we have a long history of being successful in an area, failure can show us what we need to learn in order to reach a new level of success. As Heather Dorniden reflects on her epic fall, she states that she “didn’t account for enough space for my long stride, because I felt my heel get clipped once, and then on the second time I knew I was going down”. Even experienced and successful runners still have more to learn about themselves and their craft that will improve their performance. Failure can be an excellent teacher.

Failure gives us an opportunity to reconnect with our original vision.

Failure can help us get clarity on our vision.

Get clarity on your vision.

How do we get the motivation to get up and keep going after we’ve experienced an epic failure? Dorniden recounts that “the positive vision of what I was hoping to accomplish in that race was stronger than the adversity I faced”. If we use the experience of failure to ask ourselves what we wanted to achieve and why it was important to us anyway, we can reconnect with our original vision in a way that motivates us to success. Failure does not mean that our goal was unworthy or that we are incapable of achieving it. Failure is teaching us critical steps to accomplishing our goal, but we must remain engaged in the process to learn. By reminding ourselves of the value of our goal, we affirm for ourselves that it was and still is worthy of our effort. The clarity of this vision is what enables us to push ourselves up and keep running.

Failure helps us to focus our energy on the process, not the outcome.

Failure helps us focus on the skills we need to succeed.

Focus on the skills you need to succeed.

When we are learning from failure, we realize that our goal is worthy but that we don’t yet have all the tools necessary to accomplish that goal. Failure focuses us on identifying and developing those mission critical tools that will enable us to achieve our goals. There is social science research that suggest that focusing on the process, rather than the outcome, is better able to produce successful results. This makes sense because when we are too focused on the outcome, we can become immobilized by fearful thoughts that we are never going to make it. However, when we focus on doing what is immediately in front of us well and better, we build up the talent and momentum to reach our goal . As Heather remembers:

“all I really thought was I need to keep running, because if I finish I’ll at least earn one point. As I started running, I began to gain on one girl, and then the rest of the pack didn’t seem that far away. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I caught them all?”  Then, on the final curve, I heard the in-house announcer say, “Watch out for Heather Dorniden!!” and I thought, “Yeah!! Watch out! I’m coming!” And from there, it was just this incredible surge of energy and an effortless press for the finish line.”

Failure reveals how strong and talented we really are.

Failure reveals our true strength.

Failure reveals our true strength.

There are few things that raise self-confidence as much as accomplishing something that you couldn’t do before. I love jigsaw puzzles and find them quite addictive. What makes them so pleasurable to me is how proud I am of myself when I successfully make a puzzle out of what used to be a table full of nonsensical pieces. Making sense out of what used to be nonsense to me reveals to myself how smart I really am. The things that cause you frustration and difficulty now will become your future trophies of your talent and strength.  Heather Dorniden reminds us that the most inspirational component of her epic win is what it reveals about her internal strength. She states, “I always tell people this race isn’t just about never giving up, it’s about discovering what you’re capable of when you are given the opportunity to rise above adversity.”

Keys to failing intelligently

Practice failing intelligently.

Practice failing intelligently.

So what distinguishes the failure that ruins lives from the failure that brings success? Simply speaking, it is your response to the failure that will determine the impact of that event on your life. Here are two ways you can ensure that you fail intelligently in a way that brings you to your ultimate success.

Accept the “gifts” of your failure.

What are the lessons embedded in your failure. What new skills, behaviors, understandings can you learn from this event? Why is failing or succeeding in this endeavor important to you?

Get up and finish.

Get up and keep going!

Get up and keep going!

This requires implementing a process where you develop and practice using the insights you’ve learned from your failure. As you methodically place one foot in front of another, you begin to see you increased distance from where you were and proximity to where you want to be. Steady activity based on the insights gained from your failure will lead you to success. Heather Dorniden shares:

“I would have never guessed that getting up and finishing that race would have made me a “YouTube sensation.” Not every fall I’ve had has been quite so epic, but I learned that it’s worth getting up every time. “

Imagine what success you can achieve if you get up and finish!

I’d love to hear your reactions to this inspirational story and moments in your own life when you have used your failure to promote you to success. Please share below.

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