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The Upside Of Failure

Why We All Need To Fail

Written By Dr. Sandra Engstrom and Tazeem Weljie

We’ve all been there – all of a sudden our gut feels heavy, emotions are heightened and we are confused, asking the questions, “What happened? Why did this fail?”  We studied for that exam, we put our whole heart into that relationship, we planned that project, we prepared for all the eventualities…except failure. We tend to forget that no matter how organised, how committed or how studious we are, failure happens. From a young age, we are conditioned to think failing is not okay, however it can be very good and sometimes it needs to happen to move us closer to our desired outcomes.

Failure is a teacher and a guide that supports our journey. The motivation, clarity, and resilience gained from an episode of failing is rarely found through other circumstances. As Maya Angelou said, “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” Failing gives us an opportunity to take pause to reflect on what we want and where we are going and ensure we are heading in a direction aligned with our values. It teaches us lessons, gives us strength, allows us to shift and provides a stepping stone on our journey.

In a world where social media feeds are filled with perceived perfection and instant success, it can be difficult to remember that no one is successful all of the time. It is easy to forget that triumph is often a product of hard work and that set backs are an important part of that process. This is one of the reasons Jeff Bezos hired executives from the former Webvan, a grocery delivery company that went bankrupt, prior to launching AmazonFresh. Overnight successes are rarely that, they are often the result of determination, trials, and errors behind the scenes.

There is also something to be said about failure tolerance. As parents, educators, employers, we often do not want to see people fail, but it is important to create a supportive culture where failing is acceptable. This will in turn nurture innovation, risk taking, and growth. As stated by Jim Moffatt, chairman and chief executive of Deloitte Consulting LLP.,

“We tend to protect our kids from failure and disappointment… The impulse to jump in and provide support is real, but so is the cost. Each time we do these things, we cut off a lesson in resiliency and self-sufficiency. We make it harder for them to come up with better ways to do things. The same is true in organizations where leaders and managers often prevent their employees from having to deal with setbacks—and, worse yet, from learning how to come up with new ways to solve familiar challenges, which is at the heart of innovation.”

It is also important to reflect on how we define success and its relationship with failure. Often we see success as an end point. However, when we “succeed”, we may find ourselves questioning “what’s next?” or “what now?” In many cases, we have poured much of who we are into achieving our mission that we lose sight of who, or what, we have become. The anticlimactic feeling of no longer having something to drive towards can make us feel empty, lost, or sad and the ironic feeling of failing even though we achieved what we set out to do.  These feelings often cause us to continue to push harder and further.

In other words, success is not always the end. There can be an oscillating relationship between failure and success. Recognizing this, can help us remember the role of the process and can give us courage to navigate our own relationship between failure and success. Admittedly, this is no easy task and it can be wildly uncomfortable.  To ease this discomfort and make this processes easier, here are some things to remember:

Name the emotions

Move through feelings before reacting to them. Take time to identify and name these feelings. Accept these emotions and the situation. Come from a place of self-compassion, non-judgment and willingness to see different points of view.

Be present

Sit with the emotions you are feeling. Be present and recognize what is coming up in the current moment. Take it day-by-day.

Ask for help

Call on a close friend, supervisor or professional to support you. This may provide clarity and a different perspective and you may realise this is could be smaller set back than originally thought.

Recognise negative thought patters

it is important to question the story that you are telling yourself. Ask yourself ‘Is This True?’ Work to find the source of that story to help rewrite it.

Reframe your thinking

Failure is an opportunity to learn lessons, adapt, gain a different set of skills, choose a new path, reset, and realign

Don’t take it personally

Because you feel you failed at something, does not mean you did something wrong or you were not prepared. Look at the situation from a variety of angles, look for the lessons, find the growth and realize that perhaps now is not the right time, and that is okay

Embrace the Lessons

Learn and take those lessons with you so that you get closer to your goal the next time you try.

Set Goals

Create new realistic goals towards your next objective with your new learnings in mind

Take Care of yourself

Setbacks are tough. It is important to practice self-love. Do activities that bring you joy. Connect with friends and family that are supportive. Go to places and spaces that will inspire you.

While experiencing a bout of failure is no fun, there are valuable lessons that can be learned. It is important to embrace failure, reframe it and know that it does not define who you are. It will help you grow and will enrich your journey.

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