“And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
One running theme of Nolan’s Batman trilogy is the idea of failing. It first appears at the beginning of Batman Begins, when a young Bruce Wayne falls into a well full of bats. Upon rescuing him, his father simply notes that the reason we fall is “so we can learn to pick ourselves up.” Something that’s echoed by Alfred to an older Bruce Wayne when he’s nearly killed by the League of Shadows. And of course, it’s the entire story of The Dark Knight Rises after Batman’s defeat at the hands of Bane. Rather than destroy himself, Bruce Wayne escapes from the prison that he’s put in and reclaims the mantle of Batman and vanquishes the threat to Gotham.
No matter how hard you try to succeed, it’s inevitable that you’re going to fail at some point in your life. The test of a great leader, though, is how that failure is handled. Some leaders make excuses. Others try to shift the blame. Still others just find organizations that don’t care about past mistakes – just “experience” and make the same mistakes over and over again, failing time and again without learning.
True greatness and leadership, though, comes with owning and embracing failure. Because only when you accept responsibility for your mistakes can you learn from them, pick yourself up, and come back stronger and better than before. In his famous speech at Stanford University, Steve Jobs spoke about firing from Apple. He said this, “The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life. I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful-tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it.”
In other words, Steve Jobs learned to pick himself back up. So did Bruce Wayne. And so can you.