No one sets out to fail. It is ingrained in us from birth that we should strive to succeed. Our parents, spouse and employer all reinforce this notion by rewarding us if we succeed. The extrinsic rewards for success are many, praise, love, respect, applause, money and validation to name a few. As a result, we spend a lot of time and energy avoiding failure. Exactly what constitutes failure is up for debate, something to consider next time you reach for a Post-It note.
But let’s start with the notion that failure is the situation where despite your best efforts you have not met your own objectives or that of someone else who is important to you. Let’s face it, it is bound to happen at some point in your seventy plus years above ground. Despite the best of intentions, we are all human. Witness politicians who we vote in to succeed and who so often fail.
What we are not successful at doing as a society is teaching our children and ourselves how to deal with failure or that sometimes you have to first fail to succeed. This focus only on success fosters a dangerous form of perfectionism and ignores the importance of resilience. Further, if we are taught to succeed at any cost, we are indirectly taught that it is permissible to push others down in our quest.
Michael Jordan famously said the following:
What if Michael Jordan didn’t have the resilience to get back on the court after each of those 26 times or spent all of his time after those 300 games in self-flagellation?
I can’t tell you how many times I have been to the self-flagellation shop to buy a T-shirt over something relatively minor. I’m now done with buying any more of these T-shirts, firstly I have them in every colour and they are now out of fashion. Fear of failure no longer has me in its power, because I know I have to learn the lessons from failure a dozen times to succeed the once. Self-deprecation is a wonderful tool in the fight against this fear and it will serve me well in my second act.
Ego, you have a lot to answer for and I’m slowly putting you in your place. And with this comes a huge relief. Relief in knowing that trying to control a succesful outcome is often futile, particularly if it depends on other people and being able to channel that controlling energy in a whole lot of other more constructive ways. For too much ego and fear of failure go hand in hand. How ironic is it that I had to fail many times to understand that?
Thanks Abe, for the most part I AM content and understand that failing is a part of trying and in particular, trying something new.
Not trying or not doing simply because of the prospect of failure? Make mine a double!
Today I give myself permission to fail