Everyone fails. But it’s not the failure that defines you, it’s how you respond.

I coach the 9th grade boys basketball team at my school. We’ve worked together for three months to get better. Today the boys faced a talented team in a winnable game. Starting down by 15 in the second quarter, they fought back to within one late in the game. They had two looks in the last ten seconds to pull out a victory and missed both shots.

Failure.

But as a coach, I’m OK with failure. It’s a learning opportunity. It’s a stepping stone towards greatness. Remember, it’s how you respond to failure that defines you.

Those kids could have given up after the first quarter. Or after one was shoved into the wall by a guy 6 inches and 100 pounds bigger. Or when one was forced to foul out of the game with 3.5 seconds left. But not these kids. They secured a rebound and got another good opportunity before time expired.

They fought back. They didn’t give up. When the odds were against them, they kept going.

How about afterwards?

As the player who took the last two shots walked off the court, upset with his performance, his teammates corralled him, let him know they were glad he took those shots. He turned to a teammate and said, “let’s get better.”

Failure is a prevalent force in sports, in education, in startups. But if we work hard to get there, and take it as a learning lesson afterwards, we turn failure into a step on the bridge to success.

The Failure Resume

Tina Seelig, author of What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20, and Stanford professor, invites her students to create a Failure Resume to encourage them to learn from mistakes.

I have taken and modified this same activity with the students in my Teen Entrepreneurship class. 10 slides with either a photo or single sentence describing failures they’ve experienced. I’ve encouraged them to think outside my class, outside school entirely. Failures can be academic, athletic, social, familial, entrepreneurial, etc.

When the students present, they will look at each experience and describe what they learned from it, or advise others on how to avoid doing the same.

A couple of students have shared their decks with me already, and I am eagerly anticipating presentation day.

Far too many of us are ashamed of past failures, swept under the rug in an attempt to divert attention. But showing how we have survived, and even learned from failure is a far greater testament to our character than success. Remember, it’s the before and after that matters, and failure is only permanent if you give up.

If You’re Not Failing…

If you’re not failing regularly, you’re not trying hard enough. You’re not giving yourself the chance to win. It’s time to develop a system to deal with failure. Anticipate it. Learn from it. Get better.

What’s on your Failure Resume? How has that helped you reach greater success?