successTurning failure into success

Recently I read the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton who was a legendary Antarctic explorer. He had tried and failed repeatedly to reach the South Pole a century ago. He is best known for his horrific journey to lead the stranded crew of his ship, the Endurance, to safety after a failed attempt to cross Antarctica in 1914. Shackleton led his men in lifeboats across ice-clogged waters to South Georgia Island — where they then had to scale the island’s snow-capped mountains to reach the safety of a whaling station on the other side of the island. The expedition, while failing miserably to reach its goal, is most famous for the fact that Shackleton did not lose a single man, and in fact all of them returned in good physical and mental health. How did they survive? How did they all come back in good physical and mental health? When asked some years later, Lionel Greenstreet, the first officer, why they had survived and were so well when so many polar expeditions had ended in disaster, he replied: “Shackleton”.

Lessons Learnt

I think a lot of lessons can be learnt from him. Why? Well, his expedition to the South Pole has been described as a “successful failure.” The Shackleton story confirms the cliché that the journey is often greater than the destination, and that the camaraderie of fellow travellers is always more satisfying than the end prize.

Shackleton was forward thinking in realising the importance of exercise and relaxation. A careful schedule of mealtimes gave order to the day, exercise was incorporated into every day, and games and entertainment were organised every day to stave off boredom and to contribute to ‘teamwork’ and ‘teambuilding.’.He was described by a friend as a ‘Viking with a mother’s heart.’ Shackleton acknowledged that his way could be very feminine. He could be tough, but his soft touch contributed to crew harmony as he nursed men who fell sick in his own cabin, nursed egos, and because the crew felt valued order never broke down. Part of his success with men was that he gave men tasks they were interested in, and encouraged them to express themselves through their work. In the long Antarctic nights he had them write and perform verse, he held parties, and encouraged reading from a well-stocked library. It seems that he inspired loyalty because he wasn’t willing to ‘win at all costs’ and he believed you were only successful if you could win ‘honourably and splendidly.’


If you are dealing with failure and disappointments I recommend you use three steps to turn it into a success:

  1. Reframe – Try to look at the situation from different angles. You might ask those around you for honest feedback. Listen to what they have to say, take in the information and then look at the picture as a whole rather than focusing on one specific piece.
  2. Revise – While you are gaining a new perspective, be open to ideas for moving forward. For me the word revise is a nice way to give myself permission to let go of the failed goal Be willing to step back from anything that isn’t working in your life.
  3. Refocus – Once you have a new plan or at least an idea of how you wish to proceed, the most crucial thing you can do to overcome feeling like a failure is to embrace your new path and be focused. As hard as it may be you cant spend time second guessing yourself or replaying the pity. Of why it didn’t work ‘the other way.’ Ask yourself are you holding onto a failure or disappointment in your life? Why are you hanging onto it? Failure feels fresh even after many years but its important to let go to be able to refocus. By letting go of failure it allows you to take hold of a new path of exploration.

Sinead Kane – The Kane Ability, Motivational Speaker


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