I want to start with a story.
Two months ago I applied for a volunteering program which I desperately wanted to be a part of. I spent significant time on my application and was very careful to ensure I ticked all the boxes. I was confident I was a perfect match for the role.
Last week I got the news that I did not make the cut.
So to say that I was pretty bummed was an understatement.
My first reaction was very rational. I decided f*ck it all, I will never apply for anything in my life again.
Like I said – rational.
Approximately 2 seconds later I swung the pendulum completely in the other direction and promised myself I would apply for everything I’m ever interested in because I was determined to improve my application skills.
Another swing of the pendulum and I took a profound view of it all – accepted that the universe doesn’t WANT me in that particular program and perhaps I should just continue with my life as it is …
But where is the fun in that?
So after those first two dramatic minutes where I had gone through that whole myriad of emotions, I decided to slow things down and spend some time reflecting on what had actually happened and what I could learn from it.
As it turned out that once I slowed my thoughts down, I found a few profound nuggets inside … applicable to my situation – yes … but also important things to remember when it comes to my career and life in general.
I started by deconstructing failure. Why is failure so unpleasant to us? Why do we shy away from it so much?
What is making us avoid the topic of failure?
One reason could be that we put a heap of unnecessary pressure on ourselves to keep a ‘perfect’ track record.
For example, last month we made a post in our genYOU Digital Facebook group where we asked everyone to share their f*ck-ups. What happened? Yep, you guessed it – no one commented on the post apart from the genYOU team and past genYOU speakers!
Or (and I think this is actually worse) … what makes us so afraid of failing that we quit before we fail?
This is something that I know most of us will be guilty of. The going gets tough and instead of embracing the tough and rolling with it, we just put the brakes on and choose an easier option.
Perhaps we are afraid to expose ourselves when we fail. This incredible speech by Rudolf Dreikurs “The Courage to be Imperfect” does an amazing job of getting into the nitty gritty details of WHY being imperfect and making mistakes is a hard choice we ALL need to make.
There is probably so much more to why we fear failure, but instead of focussing on the negatives, let’s look at the positive sides of failure and how we can use it to our advantage:
1 // We learn a lot from our failures …
My favourite saying is “Make as many mistakes as you like as long as you don’t make it twice” – probably because making the same mistake over and over defeats the whole purpose of learning along the way.
But we need to know that the first time is not really a mistake, it’s simply the time you learned that something didn’t work.
2 // Failures build our character.
Every time we experience a lesson in failure, we build up our perseverance and courage to take risks. Innovation and creativity wouldn’t exist if everyone in the world was afraid of failure.
3 // We become better mentors.
When we go through drawbacks we can relate to those who are experiencing a moment of struggle and show them our empathy. But beyond that, because we’ve gone through our own challenges – we will be able to give good advice to those we can see are struggling!
4 // Failure makes us appreciate the wins.
It also makes us value the effort and hard work we put into achieving our goals.
5 // Failure gives us the opportunity to reflect on our actions.
After each loss or misstep, we instinctively allow ourselves “pity time” … which is partially time to be sad or annoyed at the failure … but if you pay attention, what insensitively follows is the chance to sit in silence for a moment. The power lies in the second part.
By giving yourself time to listen what’s going on inside your head – you might just find that you already know exactly what you need to do to overcome the bump on the road you just faced.
So next time you fail at something – big or small – challenge yourself to embrace what happened and use it as an opportunity to learn and grow.