Failure is Feedback
Does that F word bring on a panic attack? Are you success fixated; terrified of being ridiculed if you slip off the A list? Well your chances of evading failure in life are as good as Bill Gates being homeless. Every new experience, relationship or project you embark on is pregnant with potential for failure! And it’s just as well, or you’d never learn to walk. All inventors, entrepreneurs or achievers fail numerous times before tasting success. It’s a sign that you’re making progress. Failure is feedback and there is no success without risk—only inaction. Like remaining in a relationship that resembles a Stephen King plot, instead of admitting your judgment was out of whack or you bet on a loser. Like staying in a job that gives you as much satisfaction as trimming your toenails with your teeth, rather than risk paving the way for working with passion.
If you’re not making mistakes, you're not learning. When did you last take on a new project, learn a new skill, go somewhere you’ve never been or play a sport you’ve never played? Instead of bayoneting yourself with embarrassment if it fails, evaluate what you’ve gained; valuable knowledge and experience, how to do it better, that you’re timing was out, you didn’t do your homework, or that it’s a simply a stepping-stone to ultimate success. Maybe you’ll make useful contacts or acquire new skills along the way. We all do dumb things while we’re wearing “L” plates—but it’s more constructive than being anchored in a comfort zone so long, that your sense of adventure atrophies.
Failure can be fun! Laugh at yourself when you do a metaphorical belly flop. Tell your children funny stories about mistakes you’ve made and what you learned from them. React calmly when your children make mistakes; your attitude will have a major impact on how they handle them in future. Instead of threatening them with a parental firing squad, seek creative solutions together. Explore ways to turn the experience into an asset. Teach them by example that mistakes don’t define who you are; they expand who you are.
Eric came to see me because he just couldn’t shrug off the dead weight of failure. He went into minute detail about how the company had shafted him in the past (they had), how his efforts to seek justice had backfired (it did), and how he was still a marked man; the personal vendetta was continuing (it was.) He analyzed the state of the economy, the specialized industry he worked in, his age and pointed out that there was no light at the end of the tunnel—he was destined to be flypaper for failure forever. He explained lucidly, in detail and with clear insights about his past failures in relationships and work experiences. Through constant repetition of these lopsided facts he’d convinced himself that the past would always ambush him and sabotage any chance he had of success. Failure was inevitable and irreversible—he’d been there before…knew what would happen.
While I admired the honesty of his emotional striptease, it was clear why he wasn’t a towering success! So I laid down some ground rules—he was only to talk about himself, only in the positive and only in the present. In the last year Eric’s life has changed beyond recognition. He’s lost weight, regained his sharp sense of humor, made new friends, been paid out by his ex employers, had the confidence and freed up the finances to upgrade his pilot’s license, been offered a lucrative position, taken the first holiday he’s had for years and won a canoeing trip down the Zambezi. This is the kind of thing that can happen when we reframe our lives, allowing us to see the whole picture and get things into perspective; when we give ourselves credit for our successes, believe in ourselves and habitually focus on the positive potential in our lives instead of dwelling on the pitfalls.
Instead of tormenting yourself with your failures until you’re a walking advertisement for retrenchment, accept that circumstances areconstantly shuffled and reshuffled and there are always variables involved. Instead of haemorrhaging with humiliation, admit your fears. Accept that you may lose your job, possessions or relationship, but you need not lose confidence and hope. Study, explore, network and visualize the outcome you want. Practice flexibility and resilience. Security comes from the knowledge, skills and lessons you’ve learned, which keep you ahead of the pack. Keep expanding, diversifying or upgrading your skills so that you’re always in demand.
It’s not difficult to be excited and motivated by success. But rather than being a fugitive from failure or letting a failure expectation define your future, learn how to work with it, make it your ally. Being handcuffed to fear of failure prevents you from getting smarter and stronger. If you already have gaping cracks in your confidence, get professional help (as Eric did). Don’t allow your potential to be prematurely aborted—or stillborn.
Stress busting prescription: What are you afraid of right now? What is preventing you moving forward or doing something you’d really like to do? Now go out there and risk a failure today.