Be Friends With Failure: How Resilience, Curiosity & Lifelong Learning Lead to More Success by Elisa Schmitz
Paula Boggs was just 21 years old when she jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. If you had told her even a few months before that she’d be leaping from a military C-130 the summer between her junior and senior years of college, she would have laughed. Despite being afraid of heights, Paula persevered, earning her wings as an elite Army Airborne paratrooper.
That life-changing experience taught her lessons in courage, resilience and overcoming failure that serve her to this day. “Fear is human. Fear is rational,” Paula says. “The trick of it is how to manage one’s fears in order to achieve a successful outcome.”
But Paula injured herself on the first jump – a failure that nearly led to her being removed from the elite military program. Not to be deterred, she pretended she wasn’t hurt so she could continue the program, and resilience enabled her to bounce back. “I had four more qualifying jumps to do in four days, and I did it – I earned my wings!”
Paula’s life was forever changed as courage and becoming friends with failure became part of her identity. “Becoming Airborne” became a metaphor for overcoming the failures, and fires, that would follow. “When I failed the bar exam (twice), I said, ‘I can do this. I am Airborne.’ As a federal prosecutor, I would say, ‘I can do this. I am Airborne.’”
Being friends with failure means you're resilient – you have the ability to bounce back from mistakes, stress and fire. You can flex in response to changes, stay agile and pivot as you navigate your way to success. Failure means you tried something that didn’t happen to work. It’s when you decide to learn from what didn’t work, to bounce back and grow from the experience instead of retracting, that you become friends with failure. And when you embrace failure as a lesson to learn from, rather than a mistake to run from, you are more likely to succeed.
As the former Chief Legal Officer and Board Secretary for Starbucks, the first openly gay executive and the first African American female executive at Dell and a public company board member, Paula was a catalyst for change. Now, as the full-time front for the Paula Boggs Band and an award-winning rock star, Paula is redefining success along every step of her journey. “Find joy in being a lifelong learner,” she says. “Be excited by something you didn’t know yesterday. Be genuinely curious.”
Paula stresses that failure is part of every person’s story, and we shouldn’t shy away from it. In fact, failure can be a launching pad for even greater success. “We all fail. What separates successful people is how we respond to that failure.”
I’m honored that Paula shared her incredible story in my book, Become the Fire: Transform Life’s Chaos into Business and Personal Success. As the featured “Flame” in the chapter on being friends with failure, Paula explains how she learned to embrace failure, manage her fear and follow her “true north.” To Paula, failure is a reminder to keep a smile on your face, no matter what. “Don’t take yourself, or any situation, too seriously. You can always find the humor in any situation if you look hard enough.”
Paula shares many insights learned from her experiences, to encourage people from all walks of life to achieve their own goals. You can read more about Paula by ordering your copy of Become the Fire (foreword by Mary Dillon, CEO of Foot Locker, former CEO of Ulta Beauty) for yourself or for someone you think may benefit from the stories and lessons shared by her and this diverse group of highly successful leaders:
- Laura Desmond, former CEO of Starcom
- Talita Ramos Erickson, chief legal officer and chief D&I officer of Barilla
- Sarah Hofstetter, president of Profitero
- Angela Martinez Korompilas, former CEO of American Hotel Register Company
- Kim Oster Holstein, founder of Kim & Scott's Gourmet Pretzels and Twisted Alchemy
- Winnie Park, CEO of Forever 21
- Jules Pieri, founder of The Grommet and author of How We Make Stuff Now
- Desiree Glapion Rogers, CEO of Black Opal Beauty
- Emily Smith, former CEO of Wild Sky Media
Order your copy of Become the Fire: Transform Life’s Chaos into Business and Personal Success.
Photos by Tom Reece, courtesy of Paula Boggs.
Group photo and video taken by Elisa Schmitz at a live performance of the Paula Boggs Band at the Golden Dagger in Chicago, Ill., April 14, 2023.
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