With the best intentions, I made a whopper of a bad decision a couple of weeks ago. It affected others, and almost immediately they began to express their intense disagreement and feelings about it. I took some deep breaths and tried to calm the sick feeling in my stomach. After listening to their opinions, I decided “Yes, they are right”. As a Type 8 in The Enneagram Personality System, admitting weakness or showing vulnerability is especially difficult for me. I had a choice to make. I could either try to defend my original decision (be right) or admit that I made a mistake (be vulnerable). I choose the second, apologized, and reversed my original decision.
That experience started me thinking about failure in general. The fact that I failed is not so important, because as John Maxwell points out, “Failure is part of the price of succeeding.” What is vital is how we deal with failure. In his book, “Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success, Maxwell lists 15 steps to “train for failure.”
Average people are afraid of failure, give up and avoid it by not taking chances.
Successful people approach negative experiences differently. They believe that the key to overcoming difficult situations is the ability to change themselves and not changing their circumstances. Specifically, they take responsibility for their actions, learn from each mistake, believe that failure is part of progress, challenge outdated assumptions, take new risks and persevere.
Re-define failure. View it as the price you pay for progress and a lesson that is part of life.
There is a big difference between telling yourself “I am a failure” and “I failed at doing something”. You are the only person who can call yourself a failure. It’s subjective. Your perceptions of, and responses to, your mistakes are what actually determine whether your actions are failures.
Which goal that is essential to your success scares you the most? The only way to overcome that fear is to face it and act. Write down all of your fears associated with the activity. Examine your list and accept the fact that you are afraid. Identify the first step required that moves you closer to your goal. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a small or large one. Just do it. If you fail at it, do it again. Keep trying until you accomplish that first step. Then determine the next one. The only way to get over the fear is to take action.
If you always do what you’ve always done, then you will always get what you’ve always gotten. People who develop deeper character, accept responsibility for themselves, and learn from their failures perform better. Take a hard look at a very recent failure that you think is not your fault. Look for anything negative in the failure for which you should claim responsibility. Then own it. Once you begin thinking in terms of what is your responsibility, you will improve outcomes.
The Norwegians have a saying that captures this attitude: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” Real and lasting limitations are created in our minds. In other words, no matter what happens, failure is an inside job.
Problems from our pasts affect us in one of two ways: we experience either a breakdown or a breakthrough. The ability to put past events behind us and move on enables us to tackle current challenges with enthusiasm and a minimum of burdensome personal baggage.
You must also take responsibility for who you are as a person. That means owning up to what you cannot do (based on ability), should not do (based on talent), and ought not do (based on character). Develop a plan that will allow you to build on your strengths and maximize your potential. Remember: you cannot change things around you unless, and until, you change within. Change yourself, and your whole world changes.
You need to think about others rather than yourself. A major cause of negative thinking and poor mental health is self-absorption. Selfishness ultimately hurts not only the people around a self-focused person, but also the selfish person himself. It perpetuates failure because it keeps you in a negative mental rut. Examine your attitude, and resolve to make meeting the needs of others a priority in your life.
To achieve your dreams, you must embrace adversity and make failure a regular part of your life. If you’re not failing, you’re not really moving forward. Finding the benefit from a bad experience is an ability that takes time to develop and effort to cultivate. You can start by reviewing the last major setback you experienced and listing any benefits that resulted from it.
The willingness to take greater risks is a major key to achieving success, and you may be surprised that it can solve two very different kinds of problems. First, if you’ve been hitting all of your goals, then you need to increase your willingness to take chances. The road to the next level is always uphill, so you can’t coast there. Conversely, if you find yourself in a place where it seems that you don’t achieve many of your goals, you may be playing it too safe. The answer is a willingness to take greater risks. It’s ironic that opposite ends of the spectrum come together in the area of risk.
The idea that you can make failure your best friend may seem odd to you. Failure can either be your friend or your enemy, and you are the one who chooses which one it will be. If you feel sorry for yourself every time you fail, then failure will remain your enemy. But if you are determined to learn from your failures, then you will benefit from them. That makes failure your friend.
Most of us possess blind spots when it comes to knowing ourselves. Sometimes the blind spots apply to strengths, but, more often, we fail to see our weaknesses. And that causes problems. If you don’t know you have a problem, then you can’t fix it. One tiny weak spot on Achilles’ heel resulted in his death. That’s the way flaws work. Notice recurring problems as a way of identifying your weaknesses, or just ask others. Don’t mentally minimize the amount of damage that a weakness may cause.
The difference between failure and success is persistence. It separates those who achieve success from those who only dream about it. No matter how many opportunities you’ve missed or mistakes that you’ve made, don’t ever make excuses. Take complete responsibility for yourself and keep trying.
Persistence is important, but it isn’t the only key to success. You also need a plan that will help you to determine how to move forward after you’ve gotten back up. To move forward after a setback you need to:
Finalize Your Goal
Order Your Plans
Risk Failure By Taking Action
Advance Based Upon Your Character
Reevaluate Your Progress Continually
Develop New Strategies to Succeed
Remember these closing words from “Failing Forward”:
The next time you find yourself envying what successful people have achieved, recognize that they have probably gone through many negative experiences that you cannot see on the surface. An old joke goes like this: “Never ask what’s in a hot dog while you’re eating one.” The idea is that if you did know what’s in it, you’d never want to eat one again. A lot of failure goes into success. If you really want to achieve your dreams— I mean really achieve them, not just daydream or talk about them— you’ve got to get out there and fail. Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward. Turn your mistakes into stepping-stones for success.
I’m pretty sure that failure will never feel good to me. Reading this book, though, inspired me and I am particularly embracing steps 3, 7 and 12 and these words of Michael Jordan: “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
What has failure taught you?