We have an interesting relationship with failure (culturally speaking). In that most of us don’t. Have a relationship, that is.
No big surprise, this starts early; for most of us failure in school meant reprimands, increased homework or (in my case) tutoring (instead of getting to swim with my friends or watch “Video Hits” after school). Emotionally, failure creates shame, frustration and overwhelm – a cocktail that is the breeding ground for anxiety and emotional hiding.
We all learned when we were pretty young that failure was not a good thing AND it ripples out waves of heartache (via action and consequence). No surprise then that we don’t talk to each other about our biggest failures.
And that’s a missed opportunity.
Failure is inevitable and that’s what makes it an amazing ally on the path to success through learning and growth. We tend to think of success as this nirvana state, we think growth is when our minds are blown and new opportunities await. Success and growth can be all that, but that’s not the whole story. Do you remember lying in bed as a kid with growing pains pulsating through your legs? Physically and mentally, growing has an uncomfortable phase on the way to the good stuff. Once we’re done with the growing pains of youth our continued growth opportunities often come through failure (like it or not you’re human – it comes with the operating system).
And that’s why we need to talk about it more with each other. That’s’ why we need to give voice to failure not just as a… well, failing, but as a clear sign of the many ways we’re growing.
I’m not suggesting you begin examining all your failures; wallowing in the hot mess that is your “Hell no” closet of self-destructive memories. That’s not useful. I have another, gentler way in to strengthening your relationship with failure:
They had 15 or so of these examples and it was a brilliant way to reinforce the culture of learning and resilience (particularly in an industry that was, and is, ruthless).
While the business flamed out, the ideas they had went on to create success elsewhere, including that wall of examples that demonstrated how befriending failure, talking about it, normalizing it (making it a bigger than life-sized info-graphic) could not only foster success, but resilience and well-being.
These are the kinds of conversations we need to have about failure with each other (and with our kids… minus the wall-sized info-graphic). There’s a saying that goes “Never let a good crisis go to waste” (Rahm Emanuel, 2008), a tongue-in-cheek reference to finding a way to capitalize on misfortune. I want to borrow it here: “Never let a good failure go to waste”, within failure is the key to increased future success, but only if you’re willing to see what failure has to offer.
Failure is like falling into a hole. When you don’t give yourself the opportunity to climb out of that hole, a part of you is stuck there forever (emotionally speaking). But if you look at what happened as an opportunity to learn, you climb out of the failure hole. Even better, you master the ability to stay out of other similar failure holes because you completed the cycle of learning. Failure is but one stop in that cycle.
It's also the most important stop. When you learn something effortlessly, it doesn’t hold its value. Think of something you aced right from the start at work; it likely wasn’t memorable and you likely don’t go back to using it a lot because it doesn’t hold any challenge of growth opportunities for you. Now, think of something that put up more of a street-fight for you to master. You likely use that a lot more often, and feel a pinch of pride each time you do.
Let’s talk more often of how we failed and what that empowered you to do because you took the courageous step to learned from it. Let’s make failure a friend and ally, rather than a source of shame and fear. “If you focus on the hurt, you will continue to suffer. If you focus on the lesson, you will continue to grow.” (tinybuddha.com).
How much better does your work and career look to you when you normalize this every-day thing, and make failure a step to your success?
Working with Carleen influenced how I see myself in the working environment, and how I feel while doing my work."
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