Failing Forward Book Summary (Everything You Need to Know)

In Failing Forward, author John C. Maxwell shares a new definition of failure that will change the way you see challenges, obstacles, and failure forever. This Failing Forward book summary will share a closer look at the key takeaways that you can start taking advantage of in your own life today.

The fear of failure is common amongst most average people. But there is a way that you can start seeing the positive benefits of failure to make a major difference next time you fail.

The Difference Between Average People and Achieving People

When you think about the world’s most successful people, what traits come to mind? Many people will say that the key difference between average people and successful achieving people is that successful people are naturally talented and never fail. But it isn’t hard to think of real-life examples that disprove this.

Michael Jordan, one of history’s all time greatest basketball players, and Albert Einstein, arguably history’s greatest mind, each have very well documented failures. These are real-life stories that prove there has to be more to it than just natural talent.

The first step to failing forward is realizing that there is a difference between average people and achieving people – but it is not that achieving people are naturally more gifted, or that they never fail.

Behind every successful person is more than just talent and a positive attitude. The world’s greatest achievers are those who have learned that hard work and dedication will still result in failure at some point. But instead of finding a way to blame others, or letting their failure defeat them, they dig for the growth opportunities in their failures.

A growth mindset is a powerful tool that is common amongst the world’s high achievers. For people with a growth mindset, the idea of failure is not something to fear. Instead, failure is feedback. It tells us how we can improve for next time.

John Maxwell explains that there are powerful lessons in our failures. Understanding this is the main difference between average people and achieving people.

A New Definition of Failure

To learn how to fail forward in your own life, you need to learn a new definition of failure.

We are taught early in our lives that failure is a lack of success. Our schools teach us that failure means we aren’t good at something. And depending on your family background, this may have been how you were raised as well.

In order to start failing forward, John Maxwell explains that failure is not simply the opposite of success. Instead, he explains that there are seven things that failure is not.

  1. Failure is not avoidable.
  2. Failure is not an event.
  3. Failure is not objective.
  4. Failure is not the enemy.
  5. Failure is not irreversible.
  6. Failure is not a stigma.
  7. Failure is not final.

Instead of fearing the prospect of failure, people who fail forward see life’s negative experiences as unavoidable parts of life that they can learn from. They understand that one single event is never the final judgement of their worth.

For some, the fear of failure is so strong that they stay trapped in their comfort zones for their entire lives. But living your life in your comfort zone means that you will never truly grow, achieve, or find your life’s purpose.

Failure is not the enemy, and it is reversible. The real reason people succeed is because they have experience repeated failures that have shown them how to fail forward.

Change How Your Respond to Failure

Failure is going to happen. The solution is never to simply not fail. So the only way to survive your failures is to change how you respond to them. And you can do this a few ways.

Accept Responsibility

Terrible things happen in the real world. There is nothing you can do to change that. But, regardless of what happens to you in your life, you have the power to take control of your current situation. John C. Maxwell argues that our failures may not be our fault, but we can take responsibility for our successes and how we choose to overcome our failures.

Many peoples spend a lot of time trying to control their lives so that they won’t have to worry about painful failures. But, as you have likely noticed, there is no way that you can predict when you will suffer or fail in your life. You can’t control the hand you are dealt, but you can control how you play the cards.

Let Go of the Past

If you want to learn to fail forward, the best way is to let go of all the hurt and suffering from your past mistakes.

One of the main reasons that people let failure defeat them is that they hold onto all of their negative experiences and refuse to let them go. Instead, acknowledge the pain, forgive yourself, learn from your mistakes, and let them go. This is the only way to find growth in your setbacks.

Get Over Yourself

It can feel embarrassing to admit that you have failed. Feeling ashamed or like you are being judged are common feelings that come with failure. But, letting go of your pride will only put you in a better position to learn from your failure to find growth.

Be Proactive

We know that failure can strike when we least expect it. But rather than fearing failure, learn to use its unpredictability to inspire you to prepare yourself.

If you find yourself failing repeatedly, set a realistic expectation for yourself. Target the weaknesses that are causing you to fail in the first place. Recognize your weak points and strengthen them before failure gets you. This is a great way to focus only on the positive emotions that come from failure rather than the painful ones.

Reject Rejection

At some point in their journey, achieving people were told that they weren’t good enough. But instead of giving up, they accepted that they weren’t good enough yet.

With the right attitude, it is possible to reject rejection and use failure as a stepping stone toward positive change. The power of yet allows us to use our failures as a roadmap toward success and greater opportunities.

If you are someone who has a hard time with rejection, try to focus less on meeting the needs of others. Give up people pleasing and place less emphasis on other people’s opinions. You are the only person who gets to decide whether you have failed. Rejection isn’t an option!

Don’t Let the Fear of Failure Trap You

It is only natural to develop a negative attitude toward failure after failing so many times. A natural response to failing over and over is just doing easier things.

But keeping things easy and staying in your comfort zone, will not help you fail forward. You will still find failure in your comfort zone, but it won’t help you grow.

John Maxwell says “if at first you do succeed, try something harder”. Real success comes from taking risks and failing. The trick is to learn from each bad experience so that they no longer scare you.

The Truth About Failing Forward

We all react to failure in different ways. No matter how bad your setback is, the first question you need to ask yourself is “am I going to let this failure hold me back from greatness?

One of the best quotes from John C. Maxwell in Failing Forward is “don’t wait until you feel positive to move forward. Act your way into feeling good. That’s the only way to start thinking more positively about yourself.”

Failure doesn’t feel like a good thing. And it almost always hurts when it happens. But the truth is, the way you react to failure is what determines whether you will fail forward or backward.

Growth and forward progress happen when you don’t see failure as a bad thing.

This final quote from John C. Maxwell summarizes the most powerful lesson from the book:

“I don’t know what obstacles you are facing in your life right now. But whatever they are doesn’t matter. What does matter is that your life can change if you’re willing to look at failure differently. You have the potential to overcome any problems, mistakes, or misfortunes. All you have to do is learn to fail forward.”

Don’t forget to share this post with your friends and family on social media! If you know someone who feels defeated by their failures, this could be just the post they need to start failing forward!


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