I loved this piece in yesterday’s WSJ about failure. I think we’ve all been inspired or excited by some of the many, many stories of people overcoming obstacles in their lives on their way to success. Thomas Edison’s 1,000 failed attempts at creating the light bulb is a famous one (“I didn’t fail 1,000 times,” he told a reporter. “The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”), but what really drives someone through these troubled times? Is it a grand vision? Confidence? The article says “self-efficacy.”:
Psychologists call it “self-efficacy,” the unshakable belief some people have that they have what it takes to succeed.
Self-efficacy it seems is different than self esteem:
Self-efficacy differs from self-esteem in that it’s a judgment of specific capabilities rather than a general feeling of self-worth. “It’s easy to have high self-esteem — just aim low,” says Prof. Bandura, who is still teaching at Stanford at age 82. On the other hand, he notes, there are people with high self-efficacy who “drive themselves hard but have low self-esteem because their performance always falls short of their high standards.”
I had to wonder, where does self-efficacy come from, how does one develop a strong sense of it:
In some cases it’s inborn optimism — akin to the kind of resilience that enables some children to emerge unscathed from extreme poverty, tragedy or abuse. Self-efficacy can also be acquired by mastering a task; by modeling the behavior of others who have succeeded; and from what Prof. Bandura calls “verbal persuasion” — getting effective encouragement that is tied to achievement, rather than empty praise.
Perhaps this is why we are all so interested in seeing, reading, hearing stories of people, especially “ordinary people,” who overcome great obstacles because we hope that somehow we can learn from what they’ve done, and apply it to our own lives. Bottom line is we all experience failures in our lives. Some see the failures as proof they are no good or their idea was all wrong,. While others take the failures as an opportunity to learn. I think I”ll opt for the latter.
More great stories from the article:
J.K. Rowling’s book about a boy wizard was rejected by 12 publishers before a small London house picked up “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.” Decca Records turned down a contract with the Beatles, saying “We don’t like their sound.” Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor who said he “lacked imagination.” Michael Jordan was cut from his high-school varsity basketball team sophomore year.
And of course I couldn’t write about this without showing one of my favorite commercials of all time.