Hello failure, let’s be friends!
This article is for those of us who want to succeed but hate to fail.
I am sharing with you in a few steps how we can adopt a more positive perspective of failure and even make friends with it.
Curious for more? Continue reading!
Step 1: Redefine failure
What comes to your mind when you think of the word FAILURE?
Do you associate FAILURE with something positive or negative?
The online Oxford dictionary defines failure as the:
“lack of success or a deficiency of a desirable quality”
I would argue the contrary. Does the lack of success necessarily mean that you have failed? Or does a deficiency of quality automatically make you a failure?
After experiencing a few setbacks in my life and making the best out of them, my new definition of failure would be:
“a missed shot at what you have aimed to achieve that could become a great opportunity to learn and to grow”
I bet most of you have read or at least heard about the book already but if you haven’t, please find below a brief overview of the differences between the Growth and the Fixed mindset.
One central concept from Mindset is that “the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.”
I had adopted the Fixed mindset for a great part of my life. Striving to always be perfect and flawless in all areas of my life has brought me nothing but a lot of frustration and pressure to perform, to succeed and to constantly prove myself in every possible situation.
I cannot say I have become the most optimistic person in the world and most probably never will, but I have certainly experienced the benefits of adopting a more positive view for myself, the one of the Growth Mindset.
If my definition of failure doesn’t resonate with you, you will hopefully get more inspiration from some way more successful people than me and their definitions of failure:
All in all, it all starts with rethinking your definition of failure:
Can you think of a more positive definition of failure than the one that came up in your mind at the beginning of the article?
Step 2: Accept the inevitability of failure
Whatever your definition of failure might be and whether it is a scary word in your dictionary or not, one thing is certain — failure is inevitable.
One day you will cross paths with it and you will meet face-to-face with situations that will not quite work out the way you would have wanted them to.
And yet our fear of failure is still there. We try to avoid it at any cost. We hide and we are ashamed to admit and to share our failures with the rest of the world.
Can you think of a situation when you have done all you could to prevent something from happening but it did happen anyways?
Unfortunately, we are not in control of everything that happens in our lives. There are factors that are beyond our reach and that might influence our goals in a positive or a negative way.
It took me a while to rewire my brain and improve my perception of failure. Yet I still hate to fail and I guess it will never feel good to not have things work out our preferred way.
What made the difference for me was accepting that failure is highly probable when trying something new or difficult as well as developing coping mechanisms to better deal with it when it happens.
Like it or not you will have to deal with failure more often than you might think.
So, you better accept that and learn how to deal with it instead of avoiding and hiding from it until it finds you unprepared!
Step 3: Turn failure into a friend
As we do not have an influence on the number of times we will fail before we succeed, I believe it is healthier to at least adopt a more positive view for ourselves that will lift up our spirits and support us with the motivation and strength to continue trying.
Instead of beating ourselves up and being angry with the world, we could better analyze the situation and see what we could do differently the next time.
Turing failure into a friend has its benefits as it provides an opportunity to:
Friend reason #1: Learn something new
Let me remind you of a very simple fact: we have all been infants and we have been born without any skills or abilities. If as infants we would have given up after each failure, we would have never learned how to stand, walk and talk.
Not being able to complete a task or achieve a goal does not necessarily mean that you will never be able to. It simply gives you a sign that you need to acquire the necessary skills and capabilities in order to succeed.
Over the years I have learned to appreciate the challenges and struggles because I have learned my most precious lessons from what has gone terribly wrong and not from all the times when things have gone smoothly.
As a project manager, I often need to deal with situations where it is difficult if not impossible to satisfy the sometimes conflicting interests of all my stakeholders. If I hadn’t experienced these situations often enough I wouldn’t have learned that sometimes all you can do is simply let go of the idea that you can make everyone happy and just act in the way that feels right to you.
The next time you fail to achieve a goal the first time, think about the skills or capabilities that you need to acquire in order to be able to succeed the next time you try!
Friend reason #2: Test our ideas and improve our game
It is not that successful people never fail, they are just quick in learning from their failures and improving their game.
Paul MacCready was the first to win the Kremer prize by successfully flying over the Channel from England to France with a human-powered aircraft. Compared to many who had tried for the previous 18 years it took him only 18 months! What made the difference for him was his great insight to design a plane that could be repaired quicker and at a lower cost. So, instead of trying to prevent crashes he focused all his efforts on figuring out how to achieve quicker and cheaper recoveries from trial and error.
The book also mentioned the example of Chris Rock, the famous American comedian, who first tries out his jokes in smaller theaters, so he can test whether they are really funny. If the jokes pass the test he would use them in the bigger and more crowded theaters. If not, then at least the impact is less tragic.
Before I publish my articles I ask my dear ‘editor-friends’** for their honest feedback, so at least my content is not a total disaster before I share it with you ;-)
One learns and grows by making mistakes. The trick is to test and fail on a smaller scale so that you don’t get discouraged to continue.
Would you accept to lose one battle if it is the only way for you to win the war?
The sooner we fail, the quicker we will find out what we have done wrong and improve our game. The smaller the scale of our failure, the less painful it will feel.
Friend reason #3: Build deep relationships
The moment we share a very impactful experience with another human being we become connected forever.
Think of your best friend who was next to you after your most painful breakup. Or the last time you have supported a family member or a friend to cope with a severe disease or a personal crisis.
I bet you can think of at least three people right now who are very dear to you because you have supported each other during the darkest periods of your lives.
Was it failure or some other negative experience that has brought you closer?
Would you trade that failure for success if you would have missed the opportunity to build deeper relationships with these people?
Although I enjoy having fun and celebrating successes with my family and friends, I have built up the deepest connections with the people around me in moments of pain or struggle. I have noticed that when I am vulnerable and open, the people around me become more inclined to open up as well.
The next time you are experiencing some setbacks in your life, remember that we all go through ups and downs.
The moment you open up and share your story you are giving an opportunity to the person in front of you to do so, too!
So, did I live up to my promise?
Do you perceive failure as less scary and can you see the benefits of turning it into a friend?
Looking forward to hearing your stories and experiences with failure!
More on the topic:
Are you curious to find out whether you have a Fixed or a Growth? Test your mindset
Are you looking for more inspiration to get back on your feet after a defeat? Read the list of 29 successful people who have failed at first or get inspired by the 30 Powerful Quotes on Failure.
*Special thanks to Arco Westbroek for giving away his precious books at the office. Keep spreading the world’s wisdom and knowledge to your colleagues @Carerix ;-)
** Dear Boryana Dineva, Ivan Ivanov & Adriana Atanasova, thank you for taking the time to read the first draft of this article and challenging me to bring more focus and depth to my ideas.