Updated: Dec 18, 2021
Failure is one of the best teachers around. Consider it the entrance fee to a bigger and more interesting life
Of the many things I wish I had learned younger and better is how to use failure as a teacher, instead of considering it a personal weakness. Let's face it, from the moment we enter school, and sometimes before, the last thing we want to do is “fail”.
Fear, embarrassment, and intolerance of failure drives our learning underground and hinders innovation. No more. Failure is strength. The most effective and innovative organizations (people) are those that are willing to speak openly about their failures because the only truly “bad” failure is one that’s repeated. Ashley Good, CEO Fail Forward
Regardless of the area, from relationships, to business ventures, failure, even the idea of it, is cringe worthy. It can keep us from trying and it can keep us from stopping, even when we know we should.
Before the pinnacles of success were the thousand tries before
Our cultural mindset is one of stark contrasts – win/lose, success/failure, strong/weak, healthy/sick. There are no gray areas – you are one or the other and there are clear messages about what side to be on.
We have many stories of success but what we get is the result. What is missing is what happened before the big contract, the gold cup or the breakthrough innovation. We see and hear about the pinnacles and not the thousand tries that didn't make it and required starting again.
The more important something is, the more attachment to your self-worth, the greater likelihood you'll feel resistance to admitting failure.
With that resistance, is the potential to miss re-framing it for the chance to learn something new about yourself, the organization or someone else. And sometimes....all three.
What is failure anyway?
Is it an attempt or effort that didn't have the wished for outcome?
That's it, isn't it?
It seems to me that if we don't admit our failures, then any efforts are half of what they could be.
Big innovations need the willingness to “be all in” as a friend is fond of saying. Giving it your all and willing to stand by the outcome, whatever or wherever that takes you.
What's Important About Failure?
So, what about failure is important? Ownership and responsibility for starters. Each allows you to create new chances for great things.
But, let's face it, the embarrassment factor is pretty huge on failure.
The more your ego is invested, the bigger the mountain to climb when you pick yourself up and face what went wrong.
I believe that sometimes we will experience versions of the same kind of failure until we really learn the lesson we need to.
My failures have taught me the importance of speaking up for myself, to voice a concern, to ask for clarity and to listen to intuition.
What kind of failures have pushed along my personal growth?
Academic – for one.
The most important when I didn't listen to a hunch that my supervising teacher was not participating in my placement in the way she was meant to. Imagine my horror when I realized that she was going to fail me, without ever having a conversation with me about her concerns.
She failed me both literally and figuratively.
I failed myself by not overcoming my discomfort to have the conversation I intuitively knew needed to happen and didn't . From that experience, that failure, I have learned how to have crucial conversations.
It was a difficult but life changing life lesson.
My life has improved because of it.
With The Right Attitude Failure Expands Your Life
In my personal life, the ending of my marriage could be considered a failure.
I don't really see it that way but instead more as a tremendous chance for personal growth.
Why? Because even though it was difficult it encouraged me to expand into the life I wanted and was not going to achieve within that relationship.
Learning in this type of situation is fueled both by the experience of ending and even more importantly, starting over.
The end of a relationship teaches you about grief and loss. You can also learn the important lesson of where you have control (self) and where you don't (others).
Healing old wounds and honoring skills and talents, trying new interests and expanding my world. All the outcomes of what in the past would be considered a failure.
Mistakes, errors, failures.
Without them there would be no new ideas or things for us to discover.
This is true personally, within organizations and our work.
When you can embrace all the learning that's possible from failure, then the magic occurs as you accept that you're creating and living a bigger game.
Have a story of failure to share? Inspire others. Leave a comment and be a part of the journey to personal change.