The Fine Art of Failing Forward

January 19, 2012 , 49 Comments

In my post about the lessons I learned during the past year, I mentioned that along with quite a lot of success, I also experienced a lot of failure in 2011. I lost quite a lot of time and money on projects that failed for one reason or another; sometimes because of unfortunate circumstances and sometimes simply because of bad decision-making on my part.

Based on the reaction I got in the comments to said post, as well as in my inbox, I was inspired to dive a little deeper into the topic of success and failure for self-made entrepreneurs (or any kind of entrepreneur, for that matter).

Rough Terrain

What made 2011 a successful year for me was in no way the absence of failure, but rather the fact that the successes outweighed the failures, once it was all said and done. When we look at a successful business or a successful individual, we tend to do so through rose-tinted glasses, taking much greater notice of their successes than their failures. That’s just the way the brain works: a few days after a match, no one remembers any of the missed shots anymore, but everyone remembers that one amazing slam-dunk.

It’s important to remember that everyone misses shots, everyone stumbles and falls and everyone fails. Watch the video below to see why this is such an important thing to realize:


Download Video

What About Positive Thinking?

My suggestion to expect and accept failure might rub you the wrong way (and if it does, I understand). It certainly goes against everything many motivational speakers and Tony Robbins types make their living with. Haven’t we all learned the importance of keeping a positive attitude and visualizing success?

Well, the truth is that positive thinking is not useful when it’s delusional. I completely agree that being overly pessimistic won’t help you in any way, neither in business nor in life. But expecting and preparing for high failure rates as an entrepreneur is simply being realistic and I don’t see why you can’t be realistic and still have a positive outlook. Be positive, but don’t be rainbows-and-unicorns positive by dreaming about effortless success and fancy cars. Instead positive and optimistic about your ability to work hard, to work persistently and to overcome adversity.

Mr. Coolidge says it better than I can:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

- Calvin Coolidge

All the best,

About ​Shane Melaugh

I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better entrepreneur and product creator. Read more about my story here.

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  • Quite correct.

    As a person that has been “self-employed” for 25 years, I know it takes work, and failure is part of the fabric of creating. Yes, starting businesses is creating, even if following someone else’s game plan.

    Unicorn and homeruns the first time at bat go together.



  • Shane, you kick ass!

    You always deliver good stuff.

    After struggling to develop a viable electric light-bulb for months on end, Thomas Edison was asked if he felt like a failure and if he thought he should just give up. Edison replied, “Why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up? I now know definitively over 9,000 ways that an electric light bulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp.” After 10,000 attempts, Edison invented a working electric light bulb.


    • Edison’s story is a great example. And I’ve found that there are dozens and dozens of stories like it. Almost every story of success includes many unsuccessful attempts and an element of dogged determination.


  • Great stuff Shane…

    I suppose the important thing is to not be discouraged when things ‘fail’ and as you say to even expect it.

    But then to pick yourself up, try and learn from that’failure’… but to move on, because the next project could potentially be the ‘successful’ one.



  • Hey Shane, as ever, a great perspective. Most Internet Marketers when they are selling digital products seem to imply, or at least give the impression that they enjoy easy and continuous success. “Just buy this… and you will enjoy easy and complete business success”. The reality of course is that, just like you (and the rest of us) is that they had to persist through many struggles and outright failures. I’m sure that the fact that you are so willing to openly acknowledge this entrepreneurial reality, will help others to work through their own inevitable setbacks.

    Now, where did I put my unicorn and rose-tinted glasses…

    Cheers, Neil


  • Hi Shane,

    “80% of businesses fail within their first year. That means if I start 10 businesses 2 will succeed. I am happy with those odds!”

    I have never thought about it that way. What a brilliant stand point. One which I will certainly be using moving forward!

    All the best,


  • I quite agree Shane, ‘Thinking Positively’ can led one into the land of the ‘Delusional’. Personally, as an entrepreneur, I have always tried to take my positive thinking into the land of ‘Opportunity’, and transform it into ‘Opportunity Thinking.’ When I succeed, this enables me to accept ‘where I am now’ and strategise so I can ‘course correct’.

    What I have found useful in this process is using a little known NLP technique where I constantly ‘enroll’ my often judgemental inner voice by asking it questions: ‘Accepting where we are now, how can you help me to get from A to B?’ or ‘What can you suggest that we do now to achieve our revenue goal of $ xx,xxx this month?’ It is surprising how helpful this technique is, and how it can help you harness the power of your unconscious in coming up with positive ‘course corrections’. It also enables me to take a positive step backwards and assess my strategy, so I can learn and move on.

    Finally it has helped me to focus on the big picture and to then bring clarity to the small steps (victories) which lead to achieving my goals….

    Thank you for your insights Shane…..


    • That’s a really nice approach. Thinking of the path to a goal in terms of many different course corrections is definitely a good way to look at it.


  • It’s really inevitable to be great at everything you do. Some things will just not go as expected, and some things will just exceed your expectations in the best possible way. But one thing I do know is that us entrepreneurs must push full throttle to achieve what we want.

    In your video, you explained about the first year in a business having a 80% failure rate and you compared it to having 2 out of 10 working business models.

    I for one, have only 1 business, my main internet marketing Virtual Real Estate business. So my failure rate is always tip-toeing its way into my life, but that’s expected. It’s the notion of having more success as opposed to failure that’s keeping me gunning forward with adrenaline in this industry. Plus, I’m really great and I have a love passion for what I do, so that’s always a major plus.

    Bottom line. Sometimes the window to the future can be a bit tinted, but even in a dark room we can find a way to manage and succeed. It’s all about trial and error.


    • Yeah, that’s a good point. I don’t mean to suggest that one has to start 10 different businesses, literally. But even within one business, there will be projects, promotions and many other steps, not all of which lead to good results. The approach should be the same: keep making new attempts and don’t let the ones that don’t work out take you off course.


  • Excellent, stuff Shane! I especially like the perspective of starting 10 businesses and expecting 2 to succeed. It took me 9 months of jumping from one thing to another to learn that. I’m currently on my 6th attempt or 6th iteration of my business and I’m finally starting to see some decent success and feel like I’m on the right path. And I actually have a 7th iteration which I’m moving towards that will increase my success. So what you are saying is totally true and I agree that persistence is most important thing for success.



  • Thanks Shane. Spot on with your thoughts on this subject though I have never worked with the odds of so called “failure”, but an interesting way to view this subject. For me it is simple I try things and if they don’t succeed I just try something else and never consider that to be failure, just learning what not to do the next time. Just never make the same mistake twice and by planning a little you can save a whole world of pain.


    • That’s a great way to put it. The Fine Art of Failing Forward could also be named the Fine Art of Making Every Mistake Only Once. :)


  • Hi Shane, like your outlook on your success rate of projects you start > most likely only 2 out of 10 will be profitable!

    Waiting for/achieving a profitable project can be frustrating. To make a decent living we will also need several profitable projects.

    As Jim Rohn once said:

    Don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better.

    Hopefully, we learn something out of all our projects – things to avoid and things to duplicate.


    • Thanks for your comment!

      “Don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better.” – I like that. That’s the right kind of attitude.


  • Great post Shane and I have enjoyed reading the comments of others replying to it.

    I try to be an optimistic person, but realize things aren’t always going to go as planned or the way I would like. A lot of people simply give up when things become too hard, but you have to pick yourself back up and keep pushing forward, as you have said.

    I also believe you need to surround yourself with people who share “the entrepreneurial spirit”. Many people, including relatives, are quick to knock down your ideas, if you are trying to make your own way. It’s good to be grounded by other peoples’ thoughts, but it helps to have some support when things become hard.

    You do a wonderful job motivating people and I appreciate your honest reviews and perspective. Keep up the great work!


    • Oh yes, that’s a very good point. Being around people who are also entrepreneurial is tremendously valuable!


  • You are one stubborn entrepreneur, Shane! And you’re attitude and way of thinking is sometimes contagious!

    I cannot agree with you more on being stubborn – that is the only way to succeed in business, in life. If, from point A to point C, a person quits at point B, how can he get to point C? There really is no way but to be stubborn and to press on to get to the goal: point C.

    Failures are what make successes sweet. They are what makes a person strong, sharp and well-rounded.

    Thanks for your awesome share, Shane! As always, they are sophisticated stuff, indeed!


  • Hey Shane.

    Right on . . . So appreciate your candor and honesty. Exactly what I personally needed to hear and could benefit from because often can feel like throwing in the towel, but I too am stubborn, and continue to focus on what I believe in my heart I can do, rather than the obstacles and or failures.

    It is the exceptional entrepreneur that will candidly expose their own struggles or failures for the sake of the higher good. TAG U are it!


  • carmelita says:

    Excellent perspective as always, Shane!

    Your explanation & insight now makes Michael Jordan’s observation much clearer for me….

    “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan


  • Hi Shane!

    Thank you for your blog post.. It somehow reminded me of that saying “Be a short-term pessimist, but a long-term optimist.” I can’t remember where I picked that one up, but it exactly describes what you’re saying.

    I guess I’ll just have to get going and get my own feet wet… And stop letting the fear of failure paralyze me.




  • Great post and excellent quote! There’s a road rally called the Press On Regardless Rally. I like condensing the gist of Coolidge’s quote into “Press on regardless!”


  • Hey Shane

    Could not agree more. I read that Richard Branson has failed in as many businesses as he has succeed at – but people only remember his successes.

    * I have Calvin Coolidge’s quote enscribed on a brass plaque that hangs on my bedroom wall, opposite my bed. I placed it there so every morning it’s the first thing I see…

    with kindness to a kindred spirit,



  • I agree partly -I find if you focus on the negative too much (and use the word failure too much)it will get you down. Thats not too be unrealistic we will not succeed at everything we do. I dont really see myself as failing. I would say it didn’t work out I didn’t fail because im moving on and trying something new. I’m just learning and growing.As the famous inventor said “I never failed I just found two hundred ways not too to do something”.It is said that 90% of our worries never come true-so if thats true is it not more realistic to think positive. Anyway for me it just makes it easier too think of it that way.And remember you never a failure as long as trying… make each day count.


    • Hey Elaine

      Good points – and I’d like to add ye olde personal development quote: “There’s no failure, only feedback”.

      The way I see it the way to success goes something like this:

      First, we put into action a plan we expect to work. Then, if it doesn’t pan out the way we expected (aka “failure”), we take some time to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and what we could do differently next time.

      Then we derive a new plan/product/service from our reflection that we hope will work better than the previous one.

      After we put our new plan into action we repeat the same learning development cycle as many times as necessary to evolve an approach that works effectively and profitably.

      Hope this helps someone.

      with kindness,



  • Holly Gee says:

    Hi Shane,
    I just recently watched you on one of Matt Carters (in Australia) webinars, I must say I was that impressed I bought your product. Since then I have been addicted to how you teach. I have struggled with KY research for 2 years, I am hoping I am starting to get it now!!!
    Any way I just wanted to say thank you, a lot of “I M” marketers could learn a lot from you, especially on the ethical side of things….. If I could market and be 1 third as good as what you are I would think I am doing just fine……….any way I wanted to say a big thank you :) I think you are A1 and send you many blessings from the land down under. I will now keep watching your blog. Cheers mate ;) BTW I love your ACCENT :)
    Holly G


    • Thank you very much! I’m very happy that my content has been useful for you.


  • Very well spoken. I think many get hung up on setting goals, getting prepared, and forgetting to take action because they are not prepared for some failure. I read a book recently that theorized it takes approximately 10,000 hours to be successful at something specific. I can’t tell you how often I see people not being able to handle failure and stop only after half that time in the business. Though I don’t 100% agree with expecting failure, I just know you must be able to ‘weather the storm’ any way you can until you get enough experience.


  • I love this part of the quote: “The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” I think I read somewhere that most business owners fail like 8-12 times before they become even somewhat successful.


  • Hi Shane, I really like your website it is very honest and well laid out. What kind of wordpress theme do you use for your site?


  • I just discovered you today. I was doing some research on Senuke X and found your video. Well after watching 3 of your videos I decided that you’re the one I want to listen to. There is an honesty in what you say that convinces me that I can trust your reviews with the products. Now I’ll follow your blogs. Thanks for your insight, and your honesty.


  • Glad I popped by your blog for the updates today Shane…. and I couldn’t agree with you any more on the FAILURE thing… i had just commented in a reply on a similar theme to someone on profit-fm – (which i am a member of but havent used much yet – just got based on quality of ABB and Blogpig products imho)

    here is a quote from that i wrote that rings well with what your are saying and i firmly believe it… I would just call it perseverence, rather than stubborness – but it is almost almost what seperates people who make it with their goals… (what i HATE about ‘the secret’ etc – and i do believe in some far out stuff, is that it is so american values capitalistic – you can get your dream anything through intention – yeah, strong intention which must lead to intensive action action action… the whole idea of not working to succeed is a bit sad as the journey is full of the education, and experience of making it on your own terms IS the reward people like us crave as much as the independence money helps allow.

    ok, babble babble… the quote i mentioned:

    was in response to someone who was basically like, “i really just need to make 3000k, how can i just make that much quickly”

    … patience and practice and an attitude that if you havent done anything and are approaching this just oh i need just 3000k…. honestly, i look at year or so i lost money and made sites some made a few clickbank sales, some made zero zero zero… nothing… and other efforts cost – but it was equal to my education – like going to university. never fear failing, as long as you keep learning and trying.

    I know this is a mightly long ramble, just in one of my moods I guess ;) but for those new to this, or frankly anything worth doing in life, but i see so often in IM and affil. or any online efforts, the key is always perseverance – yes you should be somewhat clever and able to learn and try different things, but until enough of the jigsaw pieces come together for you and you have them roughly in place (and i still dont always or even nearly on all my sites or efforts… but its always growing changing and there will be a breakthrough for you if you stick at it through the hard parts where others just say this is bs its a joke, a scam whatever….

    just off my main affiliate niche (after finding one perfectly suited to me) i make a very solid full time living now plus one nice side benefit from struggling and mostly failing during that long time, and still being open to failure, I have become very skilled with seo/sem to the point i am now also able to offer big dollar consulting for a serious media outlet’s authority site… 8 month contract ongoing – which i didn’t plan on doing

    – but when you do things and keep trying and failing and succeeding and slipping, but keep moving, keep that hunger and interest going …. you find once on the other side of the slope (and there seems to be many sub-slopes and quicksands a plenty!) things get easier (not in any way less work or less chaotic, not for me anyway) but opportunities like that which you were not expecting may come about – but i agree it takes laser focus on one path – it could almost be arbitrary what it is as long as you stick with it for your “education” phase at least and the rest of the picture will begin to fill itself in for you – maybe sooner than it did for me….
    focus isn’t always by strong suit.

    Ironically you probably have to have a naive drive to think you might make a fortune overnight to spark interest but only those who deep down know anything worth doing (even being the best blackhat seo spam link wizard ;) is going to take a LOT of work, a lot of emotion, a lot of drive….

    – it sure as heck isn’t ever likely you’ll be an overnight success unless you hit some bang on fluke timing trend like 1999 ebay or 1st year adsense direct linking clickbank, etc, and if it happened would probably ruin your long term success anyway in a way as you wouldnt learn or process the experiences of the failures

    – so think of it as the best learning you could be doing in this economy i cant think of any skillset to better be learning through your early, or mid term failures and struggles with the process (assume it will take 1-2 years before you make any REAL money, money where it is clear your ahead month after month despite your expenses)- and those delicious early notes of success, feel and enjoy them…. then ramp it up….

    and if you can stick at it be thankful you have followed a path that can pay off for a lifetime and give you independence in more ways than just financially….

    OK, who the heck am I to go on and on…… its something i obviously am passionate about though

    it touches so close to home, to be honest I am an artist, a painter… and not just a lala hobby artist but I take it as by far the most serious part of my life… i just also always had this element of being an entrepreneur / finding my independent way through life, including financial success, but independently (obviously a common artist trait)…

    i don’t know what is worse, the odds of being ‘successful’ as a painter (i mean at least at the level to make a very decent living at it, sell most of your work etc – there are clearly many levels here – and truthfully, honestly i have always aspired for the upper rungs)… but i remember one quote that stuck with me in high school (i DID start showing and selling my art from young age, about 14)… the quote was something there are ‘60,000 artists in NYC’ – ok you do the math, extrapolate across USA, across Europe, globally – ok so if there are millions and millions or artists then my chances of attaining my goals (which of course always morph along the way) but if as common wisdom has it 5% of those who attempt IM succeed or don’t abandon ship forever etc…. well to be a ‘successful’ – fine artist is probably 0.0001%

    Thankfully I had a close friend and we painted together and has this beautiful naive cockiness – (steve job quote puts it so well: stay hungry, stay foolish… another artist i admire: remember your beginners spirit)… for a long time i didn’t need those kinds of phrases as I just decided very firmly that doubt or questioning my work and if i could do it held exactly zero value whereas marching forward, and i REALLY HATE using this cliche phrase bumber sticker of the time – but ‘No Fear’ attitude…

    where did it get me, actually quite far by my early 20s… i had a lot of exposure, a lot of buyers, etc… so I was lucky to have had a black of early confidence building cause man oh man when failures hit – and they do and will – when it rains it pours – and of course failures come in many shapes and sizes but ultimately at 32 I am still painting, not where i wanted to be yet, but could I life off my art? probably yes but not as comfortably as i would like… can i live of seo im and art? yes very well at the moment, but i accept constant shaky ground… in fact maybe i couldnt live without the uncertainty… it does take a certain type, that’s for sure….

    (yes this is a novel sorry, … and yes i do seo / affil marketing too…) which loops back to the beginning and i will leave it at that …

    what is boils down to is nurture these qualities – they are what it will take to find success at this more likely than not…


    jim / unagi / syphon


  • Hi Shane,
    Just discovered your site yesterday. And I’m devoting today to reading everything on it. Your approach in this post – and everything by you that I have read or watched – seems to speak directly to me with an honesty and candor that I greatly appreciate. I hope you will keep on doing what you are doing in much the way you are doing it – I’m sure you must also create and adjust – because you are giving real value that can save a lot of people a lot of pain. You are that rare creature – the practical visionary. Thank you.


    • Thank you very much, Phil! That’s a very motivating comment to read.

      Warning, though: some of my early posts are less than brilliant. :)


  • I’m currently running three businesses I started in the last three years. I’m pretty happy with the way all three are going, considering the economy. I’d definitely consider starting seven more if I had good solid business models for them.

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s “Don’t waste time and energy chasing fads.” If everybody’s talking about it, that’s probably not where I want to be. There are endless opportunities out there but they’re not obvious.


  • One should be passionate with his work in order to be successful. And learn from your mistakes. One cannot succeed without failing first. Failure teaches us to be strong, and with this, success follows.


    • I had a YouTube channel with over 100 original videos for this site, at one point. It got banned a while back, with no warning, explanation or chance for recourse. Ever since, I’ve been a bit wary of putting videos on YouTube.
      I’m now using Wistia for all the videos on my site and I have a video-sitemap. I don’t put many of my videos on YouTube, because I don’t want Google to list those over the ones that I have embedded here.


  • Hi Shane, completely agree with positive thinking. I think the it can express itself dysfunctionally and you can get very self-critical at not having positive thoughts… a better approach research suggests is a more mindful approach to thoughts and emotions… cultivating non-judgemental spacious attention towards thoughts and emotions actually dials ups activity in the left prefrontal cortex and increase the dopamine in the brain – which is then associated with positive emotion and increased creativity – as well as being part of the brain network associated with falling forward when we ‘fail’. Basically we think more creatively and logically, and engage in more complex problem-solving behaviour if we are in a positive mood (Lyubomirsky,2005), which is cultivated through a lack of mind wandering and spacious attention.

    Thanks for all your work – we really appreciate it.


  • From the first moment I started listening to you, it felt as if you were talking to me. It has been a while since I experienced this sensation. anyway, may be I’m where you were a few years ago, and now I’m overwhelmed for a lack of success. Thank you for putting things in perspective for me.

    If you could recommend some mentoring I would appreciate it.

    Thank you


  • Good advice. It comes down to what most of us already know but find hard to put into practice time and time again. Its not how many times we fall down but how often we can bounce back up again.


  • Thank you for sharing your realistic thoughts. I am impressed with the quality of information you share.



  • Mark Henry says:

    Thank you for your great thoughts. I am currently running a small business SEO Service.I bhope your thoughts will help me to increase my business. Thanks a lot for your honesty.


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