“You CAN’T fail. It’s simply not possible.” Have you ever been told those words from a well-intending loved one? Words that come from a place of support and championing? Aren’t they wonderful? What they are saying is: “only losers fail and you’re not a loser so, so failing’s not possible”. What they MEAN is: “I believe in you”. Bless ‘em.
Lately, I’m wondering about our relationship with failing.
Failing is soooooooooo bad. Shameful. Reprehensible, even. It makes people pity you.
I’d like to try to unpack this, if I may.
First off, what’s up with that faulty logic that failing at something makes you a failure? I have conquered the art of making a subtle yet sumptuous lobster bisque but this doesn’t make me Jacques Pépin. Sure, serving it makes me feel like a culinary rock star, but it’s fleeting. Same with failing. I am imperfect and when I fail, I get to choose how long I dwell in that place of licking my wounds. It doesn’t need to define me.
And oh yes, I have failed.
Secondly, I think it’s time we called failure out for what it really can be: a killer. Of dreams, good ideas and grand plans. It stops us from launching because we let it. Because the possibility of the shame is too great to bear.
And here’s what I am learning about failure:
Failure is the fastest way to learn.
I love the toddler-learning-to-walk analogy I learned in coach training. Ever watched watched one try? They don’t take courses, buy e-books or consult anyone. They wobble, flail, fall and get back up. Wobble, flail, fall and get up. Time and time again. Sure, they’re frustrated some, but that does little to dampen their enthusiasm for the process.
So falling down helps you to learn to get back up. This time, more steadily.
Failure opens doors
Some failures we can be grateful for because they have lead us down a new and unexpected path.
You know in your own life, that when one door closes, another one opens. I’m living in this one right now and arms are wide open to what’s coming.
There are two ways to fail:
1. Not going far enough and missing the opportunity. THIS is the sucky way to fail. I failed a Symbolic Logic course in University (this may come as no surprise to you if you’ve ever felt dizzy from trying to follow my circular logic). Why did I fail? Simple. I made other things more important, like smooching (a lot) and drinking (a lot) and wracking up (a lot) of shopping debt. Ahhh, the good ol’ days.
Given that I put no work into the course, I wasn’t surprised that I failed (I believe I called it “not passing”) but I still felt horrified. I remember calling my mother and she graciously offered that for what it’s worth, she still loved me and that I could still become a great Environmental Lawyer if that’s what I still wanted to do (I didn’t).
What she meant was: “I believe in you”.
2. Giving it your all and it just not clicking. THIS is the hero’s way to fail. I continue to be with Teddy R. on this one:
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.
“Citizenship in a Republic,” Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910
Yeah. THAT’S how I choose to fail from now on.
And I believe that’s how you choose to fail too. Because, I believe in you. And I believe that you have the temerity and the resolve to go the distance and fail gloriously and spectacularly and learn lots and be open to what comes up for you. I believe all of that, and more.
So when you fail, come back to me and we’ll pop open a bottle of Veuve Clicquot to celebrate. Being brave enough to go to your edge deserves nothing less.