Make Friends with Failure

Suffering setbacks on a smaller scale? Alison Levine, author of the leadership manual On the Edge, knows what it takes to recover from defeat.

In 2002, I was captain of the first American women's Everest expedition—and I was determined that my team would make it to the summit. And then...we didn't. A mere few hundred feet from the top, storm clouds rolled in, the wind picked up, and snow began to pummel us. After two months on the mountain, our only choice was to turn back. Days before, media outlets around the world had been cheering us on; now they had to report our epic failure.

It took eight years before I found the courage to try Everest again. It wasn't the fear of avalanches or frostbite that prevented me from going back sooner—it was the fear of not succeeding. When you've taken aim at a target and missed, it's only natural to feel gun-shy. But here's what I've learned: I needed to fail at my first attempt in order to increase my failure tolerance. When I faced the same summit again, with equally bad weather, I pushed myself a little farther. Then a little farther still. Barely able to see where I was going, I made it to the top. When I got there, I felt so much pride—not because I was at the peak, but because I had trusted myself. There will always be storms to weather and setbacks to endure. You can learn not to let either stop you.


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