Today’s Lie: It’s Bad to Fail
We spend a great deal of our lives trying to avoid failure. It’s been bred into us. Bad grades at school = failure. Not getting a job = failure. Sucking at something you’re supposed to be good at = failure. The “oh shit, I better not fail at -” list is infinitely long. Do a mental check right now, I’m sure you can think of 5 things you try to avoid failing at in 60 seconds.
We judge failure as some all-too-real monster that follows us every day. Because we fear the failure monster, we run from it by strategizing, planning, and avoiding whatever our definitions of failure may be. Oh, and if we do fail, we just love to cover it up, don’t we?!
In our complete lack of brilliance, if, after all this planning, and sidestepping and avoiding we STILL fail, then
we go right into planning, and strategizing, how NEVER to fail again! We focus on the failure, beat ourselves up or, worse yet, find someone else to be the punching bag of blame, and then put in systems and processes to patch it up, and then continue onwards till the next feck up.
And we think we’ve licked failure. Boy, can we be naive sometimes!
WE NEED FAILURE! Rather than running from it, we should be jumping TO it! Failure is the only way that we know we’ve dared to step outside our comfort zone, and it informs what we create from that moment.
Rather than blame someone for failing, we should THANK THEM for presenting us an opportunity for growth that we would potentially never have learned about if it wasn’t for them! And, if it was YOU that failed, jump up on a table, get a damn megaphone and SHOUT out with PRIDE that you failed!
Let me give a personal example to demonstrate why failure is so important. A few weeks ago, I had what I now refer to as a SPECTACULAR FAILURE. I am highlighting both words because they are both of equal weight and importance. I have been giving presentations for most of my career, that’s over 20 years. I’m used to receiving pretty good feedback. So, when I helped to develop a program that I then co-delivered, I was mortified to realize I was bombing in the moment. I felt something was off from the very beginning, and it was like watching a car pileup on the freeway that, just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. My anxiety came out. I ignored my intuition to share my experience with the room and check in with them. I spoke as fast as the guy in the Matchbox Car ads used to in order to sidestep my realization that I didn’t know how to recover.
When I went to the bathroom at a break, I had to muster a lot of courage to return to the meeting room. This truly sucked.
Remember that scene from Sex and the City where Carrie Bradshaw falls on her face on the runway in front of the press and all her friends? I guarantee you, this was worse!
Then came the feedback that I had to stare in the face, and it was devastating. I proverbially lay flat on my face for a couple of days and boy did I have a good pity party going! I found lots of reasons to blame other people for my failure, and here is some of the bullshit that visited me:
- “I suck at presenting and I should never do it again”
- “I should give up at any aspirations I have of being successful at speaking”
- “If only a few people think I did a bad job, then that’s the same as if everyone thinks I failed”
Eventually, the crowd at my pity party got bored and I began to pick myself up off the floor. That’s when the BullBUSTING started showing up, something like this:
- “In 20+ years of feedback, you’ve had only 1 bad review. And you think you suck at presenting and should give it up? Sounds like your head needs to be better screwed on!”
- “Why the f- are you focusing on the 1.4% of bad feedback, and not the over 90% good feedback you’ve gotten???!!!“
- “SOME people were disappointed with you, and SOME people really liked you – how many times have YOU been to a presentation and thought the presenter did a lousy job?” Oh yeah, it’s impossible to expect that everyone in the room will have the same experience.
- “Some of the feedback really did suck, but there were some good lessons in it – why don’t you see if you can figure those out?”
- “Your intuition is fantastic. Try listening to it instead of overlooking it.”
- “It would have been really easy for you to run out of that room in the middle of the day and not return. Damn girl, you got a lot of courage for sticking through the entire experience!”
And that’s when I realized how GRATEFUL I was for this failure, and why I refer to it as SPECTACULAR! You see, after I was done beating myself up, I got to realizing there were some basic presenting skills I just completely ignored. So, I found a “presentation 101″ skills training class and took it! I also realized another valuable lesson – I didn’t belong in the room I presented in. It was a different type of audience, and they ultimately wanted something different than I have to offer. So, they helped to point me to the places I do belong. They also helped me see some gaps in my skillset and exactly how to address them. And, the best part? Because I brushed up on my presenting skills, when I presented to another group a week later, where I have always gotten good feedback, I got GREAT feedback.
So, in my point of view, it’s high time we recreate our relationship with failure. Rather than run from it as if it’s a big, hairy monster that wants to eat us, we should embrace it as we would our best friend on a day we are particularly grateful for having them in our lives.
So I leave you today with a challenge – I dare you to fail, and fail REALLY BIG. Do one thing in the next week that you’ve been making excuses about because you’re afraid of failing. (Ok, I am NOT suggesting you do anything that will threaten your life, let me be clear!) Take the risk of stepping outside your comfort zone. And, if you do find yourself hosting a big pity party where you are the guest of honor, then remember this - it takes epic courage to step outside your comfort zone. Pick yourself up off the floor, congratulate yourself on a failure well-done, find the opportunity for growth you just gave yourself (more valuable than gold or diamonds), and then go fail again!