How to fail your way to success - why it’s good to get it wrong… sometimes
Failure, Fear, Feedback and Fascination
In business, venture capitalists know that only a small percentage of the projects they invest in will make it financially, hence they have an ‘if you’re going to fail, fail fast’ mentality so they can move on and support the companies that are succeeding and thereby recoup their investment.
The quicker you make mistakes and recover from them, changing what you do and how you do it, the more your chances of succeeding. In sales, collecting the ‘nos’ so you get closer to a ‘yes’ is a way of bolstering the spirits and confidence of the salesperson, helping them to persist and ultimately arrive at the closed sale.
There has been such a huge emphasis on ‘success’ in our world it has made it difficult for people to admit to failure, though it’s often the times we don’t achieve what we set out to that teach us the most, both about ourselves and our projects, and help us to be more resourceful. The idea of the ‘survival of the fittest’ is really more the survival of the most flexible and adaptable, fleet of thought and action.
I have stories from my work with young people, where, gliding through the system with ease, with no failures or impediments until a sudden roadblock arises, has left a gifted and talented teenager devastated and unsure. The doors that had always opened effortlessly are now suddenly slamming shut – and they have neither resources nor an alternative view of the future, nor means for coping with that upset and rejection.
They don’t know how to take the experience as a valuable resource in building resilience, and use it as a ‘set-up’ for future achievements, because they have never been taught how to manage themselves in such a way. It’s not what our current education system does, and sadly it leaves a lot of casualties in its wake who feel branded and boxed as failures when it doesn’t need to be that way.
Adopting a different perspective, if we take ‘failure’ to mean simply not achieving the result we set out to accomplish this time, and acknowledge that we did achieve something even if it was unexpected or undesirable, it’s much easier to accept that failure is a temporary setback that can be corrected and adjusted. Moving from a position of ‘Trial and Error’ to ‘Try-all and Success’ makes a difference, and we can regroup, rethink and carry on.
If we can work with the idea that we are not going to improve with every attempt, or trial, (think experimenting and persevering, not tedium and stress!) then the fear of not achieving is removed, and we can feel more relaxed about finding new ways to approach whatever it is we want to accomplish. If we know that plateaus, dips and even troughs can occur alongside peaks and pinnacles, we can assimilate it into the way things really are, and it helps reduce the pressures.
We all know fear is a major inhibiting factor for success, but it is easier said than done to eradicate it in a world that revolves around constantly winning and being ‘right’.
Fear of failure, of being judged as in some way wanting, is something most of us have suffered from at some time and having the courage to push through allows us to go on to success.
This is where Feedback comes in. If we can be gracious and accepting in failure, rather than sulking or quitting, we learn valuable lessons from what happens in the process, which we can take with us to the next trial. In NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) one of the presuppositions is that there is ‘no failure, only feedback’: your results tell you what you need to know to be able to move forward.
In a way, it is true, but telling that to someone who has just had exam results that definitely failed to get them into the school they wanted is a tricky business! The language around education demarcates ‘pass’ and ‘fail’ very clearly. The feedback is very clear; you didn’t answer the questions correctly.
Feedback from failure: Learn more; apply it better for next time. Getting to the point of accepting that maybe it was for the best in the long run takes time and sensitivity.
So what happens when you don’t get what you want? How can you deal with it more elegantly? Can you become fascinated by your ‘failure’ so that you experience it from a position of researcher, observer, analyst, in the style of the scientific method, which always attempts to disprove its hypotheses and therefore acknowledges the process rather than the outcome? Can you extract the lessons with good grace so that you use them as a lever to propel you to success?
If you can get to the position where you say to yourself ‘How fascinating!’ as you fail, or fall or don’t get what you want, rather than swearing or sulking, you’ll gather more clues of what needs to be done next time to succeed. Fascination is more comfortable than frustration, and more likely to bring you the outcome you want, faster.
What fascinates you about failure? What experiences could you re-vision as a resource for your future success?
We’d love to know.
© Christine Miller
(Adapted from ‘Fail your way to success’, first published Sept 2011 at www.birdsontheblog.co.uk)