The Importance of Failure

In the last podcast we were looking at people’s fear of returning to the workplace and imposter syndrome. Alongside these fears is the fear of failure. I have been trying explain to people that what we see as failure may not actually be a bad thing, how else do we learn? As my American friends say…

…we don’t have problems we have learning opportunities. 

If we can change the concept of failure to being a learning point then our previous experience of failure can become a positive and not a negative. After all had we not had we not had the experience we would not have had the opportunity to learn the lesson.

The opposite of failure is an attitude

We live in a world of opposites that are totally dependent on each other, one cannot exist without the other. Hot and cold, high and low, rough and smooth, light and dark, happy and sad, positive and negative, rich and poor, good and evil, the list is endless. Yet each of these symbiotic twins are relative to each other. Though they only ever a relative concept. For example something will only seem cold if it is at a lower temperature of what we have labelled hot. Just as something will only seem hot if it is a higher temperature then what we have labelled cold. The difference between these twins is never an ‘actual’ measurement it is a ‘relative’ measurement.

Compared to the ceiling the floor is low. Compared to the sky the ceiling is low. Compared to the moon the sky is low. Compared to the Sun the moon is low. Compared to Alpha Centauri the Sun is low. It is all just the way that we look at it. Our concepts of success and failure have such a profound effect on our self esteem and our ability to function happily in our life. Even if you are on benefits in the UK, you may feel relatively poor but, you are actually in the richest 10% of the worlds population. I worked with someone who felt a failure because all the houses in their street has two cars and they only had one. This type of attitude os known in psychology as relative deprivation. Because it is a relative relationship our experience and beliefs will vary. 

My concept of success might be your concept of failure. 

Let’s say your success is to have one million pounds and for me five hundred pounds would be my success. You may then experience my success as a failure. When the average wage was about £18k I remember being told that is you did not earn £40k you were not even on the first run of the ladder. the ladder was their relative concept of success. Life is not a competition it is a journey. I is not what we have it is what we do that is important.

I have often said that I see competition as a senseless wast of time. My example is that if nine people embark on the 100 metre dash only one person will experience success while eight people will experience failure.

It is taking part that counts not winning

Competitive types tell this is the wrong way to look at it because the eight that didn’t win the race will be driven on to do better next time and become winners. The person who continually comes fourth managed to come third so this is a success. Or one runner improved their time and felt success. In my world to have competed at a high level meeting at all and to come last might be experienced as success and one not to be missed.

Failure could be the mother of invention 

I am reminded of Eddison and his quest to invent the light bulb. His problem was finding the right element that would glow without burning out that would create light. He tried over 200 different elements before he found tungsten that worked. That is over 200 experiences of failure, or was it. I have often thought about his tenacity. At what point would I have conceded failure and given up. Was it that each element that failed spurred him on to try the next in his determination to succeed?

Remember both success and failure are our own individual concepts

I suspect that it is our concept of failure that is vitally important to our achieving our concept of success. Just as there is no up without down, and there is no success without failure. The point from which we start anything is the down point and the goal that we are aiming for is the up point. When we look up to where we want to be we are setting our goal. Achieving our goal is our success and this is often tied up with our self esteem just as not achieving our goal is our failure and leads to a loss of our self esteem.

Learning from our failures

My experience, both personally and working with others, is that that the pain of failure is the spur that creates the energy that drives us towards success. A business person can learn from a bankruptcy so that it never happens again, we come out of a failed relationship with the knowledge that allows us to succeed next time, the injuries that we experience in training enable us to adapt to succeed in our sport.

When failures become learning points we learn and grow

So, I want to challenge the concept failure and the idea of success. In this world of twinned opposites we need to continually learn from one to achieve the other. So, I prefer to think of “failure” as an opportunity. We don’t have failures we have learning points that, if used consciously and creatively, enable us to move towards our success. In that sense there are never problems only opportunities.

Planning our success

Ok, so if we have a starting point and we have a goal we need to make the journey from one to the other. Most people set the goal too high and then don’t reach it. This is then allows them to label themselves self as a failure. To make the journey it needs to be broken down into achievable steps that create the path to success. 

Forward Base you success

Forward basing is an exercise that I use with individuals, couples and teams who need to achieve a goal. You can do this right now in your kitchen, If it is a team I am using a gym hall. On one wall I stick a big sheet of flip chart paper. On this I write where we are up to in the NOW. On the opposite wall I put another sheet of paper. On this I write where we want to get to, this is the GOAL. The next job is to put sheets of paper on the floor that become the stepping stones from where we are now to the goal we want to get to. This is the plan. Each step is set at an achievable distance so that with each step there is the feeling of ongoing success. Once the steps have been set out we then can create a timeline along the wall so that we have the steps that we need to take set in a time frame. This is a plan.

None of this is set in stone. The time frame can vary and the steps can move. If one step is not completed we go back to the previous step and either try again or adapt or change it. The point of forward basing is to create a flow of continued success that builds self esteem and drives us on to our desired goal. When we forward base we are able to use success rather than failure as the drive towards our goal.

1: What do you consider to be your failures?

2: How can you turn these into useful learning points?

3: If you were to forward base what would you write on the NOW sheet and what would be on the GOAL sheet?

4: From this you can create your steps and your timeline.

Failure, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder only you can define your failures and acknowledge your successes. In my own life I have had many learning points. The only failures that I would Identify have been when I didn’t attend to the learning points and then needed to repeat the lesson. I also acknowledge that I have had many, many successes and that makes me a happy person who feels successful.

Take care, be happy and successful 

Sean x 

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