Why You Should Embrace Failure

Dr. Samantha Boardman, psychiatrist and founder of The Positive Prescription, wants us to embrace the off-roading.

Dr. Samantha Boardman, M.D. wants to change the way we look at not only ourselves, but at the world around us. On her blog, The Positive Prescription, she offers advice on maximizing your mood, cultivating connections, and optimizing every day. Her focus is on building a strong, positive foundation, not just fixing what is wrong in the moment. “After a patient told me that every session only made her feel worse, I realized she was right,” Boardman explains.  “I knew how to dial down her misery, but I knew nothing about how to build up her strengths and cultivate well-being.” After that realization, she want back to school to receive a Masters degree in Applied Positive Psychology. Now, Dr. Boardman exclusively practices Positive Psychiatry. 

In her Thrive Questionnaire, she talks about how to set your day up for success, and why it’s important to embrace failure.

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?

Dr. Samantha Boardman: Honestly? Check that my dogs didn’t go to the bathroom in the house.  

TG: Name a book that changed your life.

SB: Flourish by Martin Seligman. It upended everything I thought I knew about mental health. I spent years focusing on what was wrong with people. Flourish taught me to focus on what is right, and to cultivate well-being.   

TG: How do you deal with email?

SB: I chunk it. I spend about half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the afternoon responding to emails, and don’t look at it in between. People who know me know not to expect an immediate response. I have a radical solution for those annoying lengthy email chains: pick up the phone and talk to the person.  A conversation is the antidote for time that’s wasted sending back and forth emails when a phone call can resolve the same issue in five minutes.  

TG: How do you prioritize when you have an overwhelming amount to do?

SB: I separate what feels urgent from what’s important.   

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?

SB: The last time I was really burned out was when I was an intern after medical school. As is often the case, I was the last person to know.  My friends and family knew long before I did. 

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?

SB: I used to shy away from the word “fail.” I thought of it as a four-letter word. Looking back, my issue with the word “failure” grew out of how I defined it. In my mind, it implied a permanent and helpless state of being. A few years ago, I read an interview with the Spanx founder, Sara Blakely. She said that when she was growing up, her father used to ask her and her brother the same question every evening: “What did you fail at today?” When there was no failure to report, her father was disappointed. In his view, if you weren’t failing, then you weren’t growing. Rather than something negative, he saw failure as a desirable, natural, and a necessary part of life. Today, that’s how I define failure.  I think of it as proof that I’m trying. So, what did I fail at today? I failed to complete the New York Times crossword puzzle. I’ll try again tomorrow.  

TG: What gives you energy?

SB: Doing something for someone else. 

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?

SB: No cat videos for me. I’m on page 175 of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb and am dying to find out what happens next.  

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?

SB: I have a simple rule: When I’m with people, I don’t look at my phone. It takes away from the time we have together. No sleeping with the enemy for me. Overnight, I charge my phone in another room — but not the bathroom or I might be tempted to check it. 

TG: What advice would you give your younger self?

SB: That whatever you have mapped out for your life, it’s going to change. Make use of the detours. Embrace the off-roading.

TG:  Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.

SB: “If you’re not making someone else’s life better, you’re wasting your time.” — Will Smith

TG: What daily habit or practice helps you thrive?

SB: Learning something new. Today I learned that the German word “Freudentranen” means tears of joy. We need three words for that in English. 

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