It’s OK, you’re not alone. In fact, everyone sees it this way. Even that eejit in your class at school. You know, the one in the big house, with the wealthy parents. They got given a swanky BMW for their 18th birthday. Yes, even they look at others and believe that success came more easily to them. And you know what. They probably even look at you and say how ‘lucky’ you are to have so easily been successful.
“Me?” you say.
Yes, you. Because you are successful in so many ways. Perhaps not yet in the specific way you think you would like, but you have a remarkable number of successes under your belt already.
And you know how you achieved those successes?
You failed. Yeap. You heard me right. You failed. Sometimes, you failed miserably, other times you just failed. But you failed nonetheless. And from that failure, you learned to succeed.
This week I’m going to share with you some insights on failure and why it carries such a stigma. Then we’ll look at the positive role of failure and lastly, learn how to embrace failure… or something I’m going to call: “Unfailure.”
So, why does failure carry such a stigma?
Does anyone like to fail?
“You, Kenworthy, are a failure!”
Ouch. That hurt. Harsh words. Does anything hurt so much?
What’s that one single word. It’s that “YOU”. The inflection on it. The accusation behind it. It’s not a simple second person pronoun. It’s pain. It is the demon inside. It is the flesh. The self-condemnation.
It screams at me.
The word taunts me. It raises my pressure. It makes my neck hairs rise in defence. Ready to fight back.
I know I am already guilty as soon as someone shouts “YOU!” even when I am not. I immediately look. Knowing that it is a call for me. I am found out. I am the target of the call. My ego demands it.
It just has to be about me for I am the most important person here.
Stroke my ego, please
My ego demands attention. Oh and a bit of a stroke.
Failing is tough.
As kids, we quickly learn the real pain of failure. We attempt to stand and fall. We learn to avoid failure, because to fail is pain.
As we grow and attend school, we learn that to pass is good and to fail is bad.
When we go to work, we learn that failure is not an option, and we dread the daily stress of avoiding failure.
Before long, our days are filled with the avoidance of failure.
We lose the beauty of failing. We learn less because learning and failure walk hand in hand.
Our ego won’t allow us to fail, for failure is bad, painful, and not an option.
But failure was also by best friend
Your most profound learning in life comes from a failure. You walk because you failed many times to do so.
You make sense from a complex series of sounds after just 18 months since you first heard anything.
By three years old, you are the world’s best negotiator. Using failures to enhance your skills and techniques. In just 3 years you have learned how to move and achieve specific objectives. You can communicate with grumpy old people and easily get them to smile and hand over candy.
And then, someone begins to take away the failure option.
Each test and question asked is a challenge to pass rather than fail.
Passing is rewarded, and failure frowned upon.
As we grow older and “more mature”, failure becomes bad company
When I attended my first school, my teacher, Miss Hill, smiled kindly as I entered the forbidding room.
I cried as my mother disappeared from view – possibly for the first time in my life. I had obviously embraced failure too hard. For now, I had failed to keep my mother with me.
The kind Miss Hill, told me to stop snivelling. That “big boys don’t cry”.
I began to learn that failure was wrong, and passing was the only thing that mattered.
My learning slowed.
I was scared to try something out in case I failed because failure was punished. I took my time. I wanted to be sure I had passed before I dared to respond.
Instead of avoiding failure. We should embrace it as a necessary and superior learning point.
Instead we want to fail fast and fail often!
When failure was encouraged, we learned the most, and learned most easily discovering quick solutions to seemingly impossible problems. We accepted failure for what it is, a necessary part of learning. The more we fail, the closer we get to unfailing.
When we encourage ourselves to fail we will unfail faster. The more we encourage ourselves to fail, the more often we will unfail.
That shouldn’t encourage anyone to take unnecessary risks. After all, we unfailed to know the consequences of gravity ignored as a baby. We unfailed to know that fire hurts before our 4th birthday.
We don’t want to pass; we want to fail fast and fail often. Then we’ll unfail faster and more.
It has become trite to reframe failure as a learning opportunity. Whether we dismiss such idea from a personal perspective, or an organization perspective.
The issue with failure is not really about the failing itself; it’s about fault. Who is to blame? The reality in organizations that less than 5% of failures are truly blameworthy, yet 80% of them are treated as blameworthy!
This is ridiculous, and you know it. So let’s embrace failure. Not fault, but failing.
You too have someone like Miss Hill in your early schooling. The teacher who began to encourage you to accept fault rather than learning from those many experiences.
And this week, encourage someone in your workplace or homelife to embrace unfailing.
And if you want some ideas on how to go about this systematically, Dr. Guy Winch wrote a piece on “The 4 keys to learning from failure” for the Huffington Post back in 2013. It’s a good place to start.