The F word: Finding your way out of failure

by Amy Hunter

We’ve heard many times that failure is good for us; we’re encouraged to fail fast, fail often.  Failure can build resiliency, spark innovation, and can teach us a valuable lesson. But it’s hard. And being afraid of failure can really hold us back because when we’re afraid to fail, we get trapped into playing safe.

I’ve had my share of failures, both personal and professional, learning lessons that I could not have gained

any other way.  I’ve learned to accept that while failure is very hard in the moment, if I focus forward I get through it.  However, gleaming the wisdom from failure doesn’t happen overnight, and initially we might just be caught in a spiral of emotions.

It’s feels personal-

We can have a physical response to failure, that initial “oh my god I feel sick” feeling when we first find out that we’ve missed the cut, failed a course, lost a job or ended a relationship. We can experience failure deep within us and it can trigger powerful emotions and old stories from our past.  We can interpret our failure as a failure of who we are as a person, which impacts how we see our future possibilities.

I remember when I took on a new job, one that I had really wanted and worked hard to get. I got the position and within about three months I failed big time. It was awful; I felt rejected, embarrassed and began to dread going to work.  I took my lack of success in the role as a personal failure.  It undermined my confidence in myself and in the end, I quit.

Looking back now I see how limited my view was. Initially, I pointed outwards at all that was wrong in the organization, thinking how they set me up to fail and then I turned inwards to focus on what was wrong with me.   I believed I didn’t measure up, that I just wasn’t good enough. And if I hadn’t decided to take a hard look at what happened and to move forward, I would still be stuck in a very personal story of failure.

What I have learned is:

1.         It’s how we respond to failure that counts
John Maxwell in his book Failing Forward emphasizes that it’s how we respond to failure that is important.  Blaming others, blaming ourselves holds us back.  Take time to see the learning.

2.       “Remember that failure is an event, not a person.” – Zig Ziglar
Looking at failure differently by seeing it as an event that happened, an action or strategy that didn’t work is freeing.  It’s about actions that resulted in an outcome, not about who we are as a person.  Then making mistakes becomes an opportunity to learn and create a new way forward.

3.         We’re perfectly imperfect
Giving ourselves permission to be a beginner again and accept that we are imperfect also opens the door to mistakes and failures.   Taking on new positions, starting a business, trying for a new job stretches us and makes us vulnerable. If we want to expand our potential we have to accept that we are going to trip, fall down in the mud and have to get back up and try again.

4.         Learning from the ride
The emotional roller coaster of failure can challenge our sense of self worth, however it’s the journey through failure that will lead us to know ourselves more fully, with more tenderness and to accept our vulnerability and imperfection.

It also makes us more resilient when we dig out of the mud-pit of failure and with determination, pick up and try again.  With acceptance comes wisdom.

Ultimately, how we view failure is a choice.  When we choose to grow and explore what else is possible, we enrich our capacity to lead ourselves and others through new challenges and we learn to thrive through failure.

 “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.”― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

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