To Win, You Have to Know How to Lose

A paradox: I think one of the best signs that someone has a good chance to be successful is when they know how to deal with failing. I learned more from losing than I ever did from winning, and my greatest successes have all come about because of the things I learned from things that didn’t work—that failed.

In football, I learned from losing. When we won, we went out to dinner and laughed and celebrated. We had a great time—but I didn’t really learn much. In fact, the danger was that I would start to think I had it all figured out, that I had all the answers. I can assure you, I never did, and any time I even started to think that I got a nice dose of reality to put me back in my place. When we lost, nobody went out to party. I went and watched tape. I watched every mistake over and over again—what did I not see as it was happening, why did I make that decision, what was I doing wrong? How could I have done better to give my team a better chance to win? And then I prepared myself so I wouldn’t make the same mistake again.

No matter what happened, I wasn’t going to be paralyzed by a loss. Most NFL players grow up as the best player on their team their whole lives, and they can often win games single-handedly. They don’t always learn how to lose. But when you get to the NFL, everybody is that good, and every player is going to experience defeat. After all, only one team has ever gone undefeated! Players who never learn how to handle defeat are in trouble, because when things start going against them they don’t know how to change direction and solve their problems. If all you’ve ever done is win your entire life, failure is a shock to the system, and there are players who never figure it out. The great ones learn how to lose—and then use what they learn to win in the future.

That same attitude has helped me in business. Some of my first businesses didn’t work. But I learned from every single one of them. I learned how to bootstrap a business after I took out a loan on a business that failed. I learned how to choose the right industry. I learned how to see the signs and know when to get out of something. But because I believe in the power of failure, I didn’t let it stop me when something didn’t work.

Knowing how to fail well takes resilience, perseverance—maybe even a little stubbornness. It takes smarts and creativity. And it takes humility to admit failure and open yourself up to learn from it. Nobody gets it right every time. We all fail. But when we learn from our failures and be honest with ourselves about what we’re doing and where we fall short, then we can get it right in the long run. It’s a long season, and continuing to learn and get smarter is the only way we’ll be able to keep getting stronger week after week, year after year.

This article was originally published by AMAC SBS

Fran Tarkenton

About Fran Tarkenton

Fran Tarkenton is an entrepreneur and NFL Hall of Famer, and the founder of GoSmallBiz.com and Tarkenton Companies. With a passion for small business, he’s started more than 20 businesses during and after his NFL career. Fran is a small business coach for entrepreneurs and business owners, providing advice and guidance through sites such as GoSmallBiz.com, SmallBizClub.com, and more. He has written about business issues in the Wall Street Journal, U.S. New and World Report, and USA Today, along with regular appearances on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. You can follow Fran on Twitter @Fran_Tarkenton.