Of the many things I wish I had learned younger and better is how to use failure as a teacher, instead of considering it a personal weakness. Let’s face it, from the moment we enter school, and sometimes before, the last thing we want to do is “fail” .

“Fear, embarrassment, and intolerance of failure drives our learning underground and hinders innovation.
No more. Failure is strength. The most effective and innovative organizations (people) are those that are willing to speak openly about their failures because the only truly “bad” failure is one that’s repeated.

Regardless of the area, from relationships, to business ventures, failure, even the idea of it, is cringe worthy. It can keep us from trying and it can keep us from stopping, even when we know we should.

Before the pinnacles of success were the thousand tries before

Our cultural mindset is one of stark contrasts – win/lose, success/failure, strong/weak, healthy/sick. There are no gray areas – you are one or the other and there are clear messages about what side to be on. We have many stories of success but what we get is the result. What is missing is  what happened before the big contract, the gold cup or the breakthrough innovation. We see and hear about the pinnacles and not the thousand tries that didn’t make it and required starting again.

The more important something is, the more attachment to our self-worth, the greater resistance to admitting failure. And, more importantly, the greater resistance to re-framing it as a chance to learn something new about yourself, the organization or someone else.

What is failure anyway? Is it an attempt or effort that didn’t have the wished for outcome? That’s it, isn’t it? It seems to me that if we don’t admit our failures, then any efforts are half of what they could be. Big innovations need the willingness to “be all in” as a friend is fond of saying. Giving it your all and willing to stand by the outcome, whatever or wherever that takes you.

What’s Important About Failure?

So, what about failure is important?  Ownership and responsibility for starters. Each allows us to create new chances for great things.The embarrassment factor is pretty huge on failure. The more our ego  is invested, the bigger the mountain to climb when we pick ourselves up and face what went wrong. I believe that sometimes we will experience versions of the same kind of failure until we really learn the lesson we need to. My failures have taught me the importance of speaking up for myself, to voice a concern or to ask for clarity.

What kind of failures have pushed along my personal growth? Academic – you bet. The most important when I didn’t listen to a hunch that my supervising teacher was not participating in my placement in the way she was meant to. Imagine my horror when I realized that she was going to fail me, without ever having a conversation with me about her concerns. She failed me both literally and figuratively. I failed myself by not overcoming my discomfort to have the conversation I intuitively knew needed to happen and didn’t . From that experience, that failure, I have learned how to have crucial conversations. It was a difficult but life changing life lesson. My life has improved because of it.

With The Right Attitude Failure Expands Our Lives

In my personal life, the ending of my marriage could be considered a failure.  I don’t really see it that way but instead more as a tremendous chance for personal growth. Why? Because even though it was difficult  it encouraged me to expand into the life I wanted and was not going to achieve within that relationship. Learning has been fueled both by the experience of ending and even more importantly, starting over.  I learned more about grief and loss. I came to value patience and acceptance for where I have control (me) and where I don’t (others.) Healing old wounds and honoring skills and talents, trying new interests and expanding my world.  All the outcomes of what in the past would be considered a failure.

Mistakes, errors, failures. Without them there would be no new ideas or things for us to discover. This is true personally and within organizations. Here’s to all the learning that is possible, when we accept that failure is just a part of the bigger game. Have a story of failure to share? Inspire others. Leave a comment and be a part of the journey to personal change.

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