Of course we all know that failure happens to everyone, and yet we never really hear about it. Instinctively we cover it up and make light of anything that hasn’t worked, often pretending that it never really mattered to us anyway.
The other thing you probably know is that those times in our lives that haven’t gone so well, are often when we experience the biggest growth – both in terms of knowledge and emotions.
Give this exercise a try. Firstly, imagine you’re at a party and really want to impress the person you’re talking to. Describe your life in the most positive, optimistic and confident way possible.
When you’ve done this, flip it on its head and describe your life in the darkest, most pessimistic and painfully truthful way you can.
It’s a powerful exercise. Most of us are so used to glossing over our stories and appearing endlessly positive and successful, that we’re unfamiliar with articulating our struggles and failures to other people. But if you do this exercise you’ll probably notice how emotional you get, and connected you feel to the second story. These stories are what got us to where we are and we’ve lived every moment of them in glorious technicolour.
If you do the exercise with a partner you’ll also notice that as a listener you’re more interested in the second story. Why is this? It’s not that we enjoy other people’s sufferings in an unkind way, it’s just that it makes us feel more connected to them and to the world, because it demonstrates that everybody fails and has failed, whatever image they might usually present to the outside world.
The trick is to see your failure as an event in a long and interesting story, not as an identity. It’s worth remembering that everything of value comes at a cost, and there’s often a flip side to success and failure. Those that have great career success often make concessions when it comes to spending time with family and friends. And vice versa.
The exercise above shows us that you can make an empowering and positive choice about how you deal with a ‘failure’ simply by connecting with other people in an honest way about it and taking from it meaningful learnings that you can use on the next step in your journey.