In praise of beautiful failures...

Photo by Jannes Glas

As someone who has failed countless times (and some in spectacular fashion), I am always mindful of the undiscovered opportunity to learn from those failures, and use the lessons to prepare for future success. Most of all, I have learned to recognize that sometimes a failure is actually a success in disguise – and the anticipation of imminent failure can help hasten future successes.
This topic was on my mind this week as I, like hundreds of millions of sporting fans around the world, saw the shocking comeback in one of international soccer’s biggest matches.  In the European Champions League tournament, Barcelona (one of Spain’s best teams) had previously bested Liverpool (one of the U.K.’s best teams) 3-0 in the first leg of the two-match series, played in Barcelona. In order to come back and win the semi-final, Liverpool had a Herculean task – in the second leg (played in Liverpool) they had to score at least four goals and keep Barcelona from scoring any additional goals. And here was the other wrinkle…
Liverpool’s two best scorers and another one of its starters were not able to play because of injuries. 
So it was almost impossible to believe Liverpool had a chance at victory. The odds were less than nil. It seemed that Barcelona had all but won the match before it was even played. Even the Liverpool manager, Jürgen Klopp, couldn’t seem to see a possible Liverpool victory. In his pre-match press conference, Klopp said: 
“Two of the world’s best strikers are not available and we have to score four goals against Barcelona to go through after 90 minutes. It does not make life easier but as long as we have 11 players on the pitch we will try it. We have to celebrate the Champions League campaign. Either to give it a proper finish or score another goal.

“If we can do it ,wonderful. If not, we should fail in the most beautiful way. A close result - that is what we will try but it is a difficult job.”

Fail in the most beautiful way…. that was Liverpool’s backup plan.
They didn’t need the backup plan, because in stunning fashion on Tuesday night, Liverpool came back to beat Barcelona 4-0 in the second leg of the match-up. As the result of an inspired performance (and apparently an inspired locker-room speech by Klopp), Liverpool did what most thought was impossible – they scored four goals against one of the best teams in the world. They held one of the best scoring teams in the world scoreless.
Although they were prepared to fail in the most beautiful way, they succeeded beyond the imagination of almost everyone, perhaps even themselves. 
Breathtaking. Inspiring. And a reminder…
It isn’t enough to simply believe you can do something. You need to be clear-eyed and realistic about the effort required, and you must recognize the possibility of failure. You need to say to yourself, like Klopp did…“If we can do it wonderful. If not, we should fail in the most beautiful way. A close result that is what we will try but it is a difficult job.” 
You can be optimistic, but you need need to be realistic too.
Because when you are deep in a proverbial “hole,” missing some of the key resources you need, and facing insurmountable odds, failure may seem more likely than success. So much so, that a beautiful failure is all you can hope for, all you can speak about. 
Have you ever felt that way? 
I have. Which perhaps is why this week’s crazy Liverpool success should inspire you, me, and all of us. Yes, we understand that stepping on a playing field requires not only effort, but also humility. We know that whether it is the beautiful game of sport, or the complex worlds of business and social change, success isn’t guaranteed, and failure is just as likely. That is why we need to play the game, and in the words of Klopp – “give it a proper finish.”
Because yes, after the finish the best result might be a beautiful failure. But sometimes, more often than not, bracing for a beautiful failure will paradoxically lead you to a success you thought was was unimaginable. 
Regardless of the result, that is how you fail, and grow, beautifully.  

Seth Cohen