How do you feel when you fail?
Embarrassed? Ashamed? Angry? Fearful?
These are common emotions, and many would consider them a normal response to failure.
We live in a society that champions and rewards success, so to fail generally doesn’t feel good, in any context. Our past conditioning, and resulting belief system, has programmed us over time to respond to failure with these challenging emotions, and more. But this is all it is. Conditioning. We can change these belief systems, ultimately changing our entire relationship with failure and instead of fearing it, using it to our advantage.
Whatever your relationship with failure, it stems, in part, to a lifetime of responses from those around you when something doesn’t go according to plan. Your parents, your teachers, your boss – the way these people react when you fail significantly influences your own attitude towards failure; whether you benefit and learn from it or whether it negatively impacts your ability and willingness to try something new going forward. It can also impact how you behave around others when you fail i.e., whether you seek to blame someone, or something, else for the outcome.
How can we change our relationship with failure?
It is possible to turn a negative relationship with failure around by taking a step back to assess what has happened in the past. Start by looking at your key moments of personal growth. Where have the turning points been? You will find that they usually follow the challenges you’ve faced. Sometimes you may have faced the same challenges over and over before you have taken the lesson, which is where the turning point lies and growth occurs, evidence that failure can indeed be your friend, you just must let it.
Consider how people responded to you in the past when you failed. Were you supported and encouraged, or did you feel alone? The pattern of succeeding together and failing alone can start in childhood and persist into adulthood. Failure can be a lonely place, leaving us vulnerable to giving into our ego and the resulting emotions. To regain control, you need to detach from your ego. You need to strengthen your Stone Heart to accept failure and find the value in it.
To strengthen your muscles you work out, you rest, and you build up; you grow stronger, and your sessions become easier. Strengthening our mind is just the same. Tear down your past conditioning around failure and create new frameworks and conditioning. Each time you fail your mind muscle will be worked as you work hard to detach, to learn, to move forward. Each time it becomes a little easier. This development of strength is what many refer to as ‘resilience’ and ‘mental toughness’, it’s using your inner power to tune out the voice telling you ‘You’re a failure’, ‘you’re not good enough’, ‘you should give up’ and instead welcoming the lesson and moving forward.
Failure is your friend
Failing is how we learn and grow. As a development tool it should be celebrated rather than feared. If we only ever succeeded our potential would be limited in the absence of the reflection and lessons that failure offers. Failure needs to be permanently reframed, and your relationship with it considered a permanent work in progress, as with all aspects of self-mastery.
Self-love and acceptance are key parts of this process. Detaching from the judgment of others is essential, instead drawing on your own well of self-love to accept the teachings as a gift and move on. You cannot control how others perceive your failure, only how you respond to it. Accept that and focus your energy instead on that which you can change and benefit from.
The growth that you will experience from failure is part of a continuous cycle. You fail, you stop, you learn, you recover. You take those learnings, and you start again. Recovery is a key element of the process and part of self-care. Give yourself space and time to absorb the impact and the lessons. This is where the growth happens, just like when muscles are at rest after your workout, and you will come back stronger.
All of this is not to say that you won’t still feel the failure, but the more you detach from ego and judgment the more you will gain and grow. This is the resilience, agility, and self-management required to thrive in today’s unpredictable world. As the CEO of a busy talent agency, it is what more and more of our clients are looking for when they are hiring, not just in their leaders but in all their people.
Learn to ride the waves of failure
Life will produce continuous waves that will challenge you, some of them you will surf capably, and others will pull you under. Whilst they can be unpleasant, it’s the waves that cause wipeouts that hold the magic. They reveal the incremental adjustments that are needed to be more prepared next time and less likely to fall off. Be grateful for those waves, because the more you face them the less terrifying they seem and the better your surfing becomes. Stop worrying about who’s standing on the beach watching. When you wipeout, take a breath and then jump back on your board, paddle out again and enjoy the ride.
PS: Stay tuned for my next blog post on the culture of blame in organisations and how as leaders we need to change this.