This week I want to write about failure: what it really is, and how to have a successful failure. I feel that there’s a lot of discussion around avoiding failure and how to succeed, but not so much about how to deal with failure in a positive way.
Sooner or later, everyone fails. It’s a part of life. But sometimes failure can lead to feelings such as disappointment, frustration, and regret. My hope is to teach you how to make your next failure one that bears fruit.
Having a successful failure —what toddlers can teach us
As a parent, nothing is more fascinating than watching your child stand up, leaning against that couch, turning around, and taking those first steps toward you.
You cheer them on. And then it happens. Boom! They take a digger.
Toddlers execute some pretty epic fails. They take a digger pretty much every other step. But failing doesn’t seem to bother them. They just pick themselves back up and try it again.
We watch and find humor in their resilience. It’s really cute! Then they succeed and we cheer them on. We pick them up and hoist them to the sky, giving them praise and smooches. I miss those days.
What can we learn from this cute lesson?
Toddlers fall because they don’t yet have the physical strength to walk. It’s that constant picking themselves back up that gives them the strength to eventually be able to walk. If they had just quit and decided it wasn’t worth it, they wouldn’t have develop the muscles to walk.
If we could start seeing failure as a positive thing, like an opportunity, maybe we can stop being afraid of it. Let’s learn how to have a successful failure.
Keep moving forward
“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
Failure has the tendency of grabbing our attention and never letting go. Most notably, I see this in people that went through a divorce. They see divorce as a failure and get stuck in the past. They have a difficult time moving forward.
One of my clients, even after ten years after his divorce, couldn’t bring himself to sell or refinance his house out of his ex-wife’s name. And despite remarrying and starting a new family, he couldn’t get himself to remove his ex-spouse and add his new spouse on his life insurance policies. In the end, he sabotaged his new marriage and divorced again.
But like that toddler, if you can pick just yourself back up and keep moving forward, failures often lead to rewarding beginnings and discoveries. Now that would be a successful failure.
One of my favorite commencement speeches about failure comes from Lana Guinier, a professor at Harvard Law School. In her 2004 commencement speech at the University of Illinois, she said:
“Failure is often the only way we learn. Failure helps to focus the mind. Often times, when we fail, we revisit the source of our failure and we try again. Indeed, it is those with the will to practice, in the face of failure, who often succeed.”
By re-framing how we look at failure, we can find new opportunities for growth and change in our work and personal lives.
What is failure and why are you afraid of it?
In order to better understanding of what failure is, I turned to Google and asked, “What is failure?”
This is what Google came back with:
The first definition didn’t hold much substance. But look at that second one. Google defines failure as “the omission of expected or required action.”
That’s interesting. I actually love that definition.
If failure means that we (or something else) just didn’t do the expected or required action, it seems so harmless. Is it just me or do you feel the same?
If failure means things just didn’t turn out the way we expected it to, it doesn’t seem like a big deal anymore.
Unfortunately, most people start brooding over their failure. That’s not a successful failure. They give their failure a negative feeling and stop expecting a positive outcome. These people keep their expectations really low and keep recycling the same life. After all, you can never fail if you never try. They never push the limits of their comfort zone and grow, because of that they never have to deal with not meeting their own expectations.
Why are you avoiding failure?
Most people don’t achieve their dreams because they don’t want to fail.
In my blog post, “Why people take action and others don’t”, I wrote about how our thoughts create our feelings and how those feelings influence whether or not we take action.
I find that people are afraid of failing because they are trying to avoid feeling a certain way. Perhaps they’ve experienced a failure or two in the past and it felt like it was a demoralizing and upsetting experience. Perhaps they’re in a role where they are faced with rejection on a daily basis —as is the case with most sales roles. Now their motivation is to avoid feeling that way ever again.
Now that we know that failure is really just not meeting our own expectations or not taking the required action, We can change the way we feel about failing and we can turn that experience into a successful failure.
Here’s the funny thing: When we don’t meet our own expectations, the only thing that we feel is what we tell ourselves to feel.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Let’s say that you’re sick and tired of running into financial problems. You set out to build an emergency cash cushion of $1,000. You’re expecting a certain result. But you get an unexpected bill in the mail or you need to repair the car and now you missed your expectation.
From there, you get to decide how you are going to emotionally respond to that scenario..
Ironically, the whole reason we avoiding failing is to avoid something that we have complete control over… a feeling of disappointment.
We’re avoiding something that we have complete control over, and acting like it’s something that’s happening to us. Have you ever found yourself asking, “Why does this always happen to me?”
Failure doesn’t happen to us. We just decide to make it mean something hurtful. We decide to associate it with a negative emotion.
The Successful Failure
Instead of looking at failure as the end of the world, we can make it mean something else. We can actually make failure mean something positive. We can turn it into a successful failure. And in doing so, we can stop dreading the the very thing that we’re creating —negative emotions.
I host a couple webinars each month. My first one was called, “Student Loans for Professionals: Managing your money before you have any”.
I was very excited to launch it and put my blood, sweat, and tears into creating the presentation materials. I invested hundreds of dollars into a webinar platform and marketing it. Sadly,come the day of the webinar, I only had five people sign up for it, and only one of which attended.
I felt like it was such a failure. Even though the webinar went well, I was hung up on the fact that I only had one person show up. I felt like nobody wanted it. I felt like I was the problem and stopped doing doing webinars for about three months.
The reason why it felt so terrible was because I felt like I had failed. . I started to avoid working on my webinars because I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. .
In retrospect, I realize I could have turned it into a successful failure. Instead of feeling bad about myself, I could have been excited that I found one person to listen to me. Though I didn’t meet my expectations of getting ten people to join my webinar, I still made an impression on someone. That’s better than no one, especially for a first time!
Let’s look back at Google’s Definition of what failure really is: “the omission of expected or required action.” My failure wasn’t that I didn’t know how to host a webinar. My webinar was actually perfectly executed. My failure was that I just didn’t get ten people to listen to it.
And when I look at it this way, it no longer makes me want to avoid failure. It actually makes me want to learn and grow, and try it again.
In the end, I’m the one that’s determining what my experience with failure will be like.
Achieve success through failure
If failure is defined as not meeting your expectations, I would define success as meeting them. By experiencing successful failures, we are going to get better at learning and meeting our expectations. The best way to meet our expectations is to practice meeting them, to make mistakes, and to learn what works and what doesn’t.
Instead of beating ourselves up for failing, let’s give ourselves permission to fail before we even started. If you truly want to succeed, you need to embrace the possibility of failing. You need to keep pushing and persisting no matter what happens.
To help you get more successes with your money, check out, “How Can I Budget My Money Better?”
Michael Jordan said it best: “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Now I want to hear from you. How have your failures been crushing your hopes and dreams? And how are you going to turn those experiences into successful failures?
Do you have a pressing question. If so you can drop it in the comments below or ask me privately. If it’s good enough, I’ll answer it and mention you on my next Q&A Tuesday on TommyTV.