Stop Fighting Failure

Fist hitting a crumpled paper with the word Failure

“Every time you fall down or take the wrong path, it isn’t wasted. You will surely develop and grow over time.”

– Natsuki Takaya

What’s better than turning something around that hasn’t been a success? Think of that unparalleled accomplishment you feel when you take a failing business, marriage, career, or idea and see it go from tragedy to triumph. Life gives us a series of ups and downs. Are you spending too much of your precious time dwelling on the downs instead of using them to your advantage?

Most of us tend to fear failure. Avoiding failure is nearly impossible and living a life that avoids any kind of loss puts us in a very unhealthy place.

So, how do we stop fighting with failure?

Why Isn’t Failure an Option?

“We are all failures–at least the best of us are.

– M. Barrie

From our family upbringing to our earliest school days we are shaped by the messages and lessons we receive. Some households are not very supportive and others are highly critical with their children. Then there are parents who go as far as being the ‘helicopter-type.’ They hover over each step their child takes expecting to guide them to perfection or shield them completely from any of the unpleasantness of life. This behavior rejects accepting failure and is detrimental to human growth.

Once we reach school-aged we are expected to excel in every subject. After our fledgling attempts to learn something new, the incentives we are given are the A grade and praise from the teacher and our parents. Should we bring home a D or an F we are often left feeling no motivation to try again because we are not encouraged but criticized. Many of us were not inspired to try again nor given a chance to explore why we did not have a better grasp on the assignment. These experiences follow us into our adult lives.

Fortunately, we now live in a time where participation is recognized and appreciated. More people are beginning to understand that ’getting in the game’ brings benefits like first-hand experience and the opportunity for trial and error. I want to note that a careful line needs to be drawn between just celebrating mediocrity, and the practice of giving a child (or spouse or employee) the proper encouragement and freedom to grow and learn from mistakes.

A constant diet of expecting only success can lead to stress, low self-esteem, shame, and self-sabotage. Maybe it is time we change our mindset towards failure and success.

Success is Subjective

“Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.”

– General George Patton

Another pitfall of failure is comparing ourselves to others.

What one person sees as a success compared to what another sees is completely subjective. Someone with the means to send their children to the finest schools may look at success as turning out offspring who are doctors and lawyers. Another family of lesser means may determine success as the ability to send their child to any college. Someone else may view success as learning a trade in the auto industry and becoming a good mechanic. All have achieved success and no success is any less important than the other.

It is when we blindly compare doctor to college degree to mechanic that we get into muddy waters.

Living in the age of constant media information and reality television is another influence on our view of success and failure. You can turn on the television at almost any time of day and find a reality competition program. People tune in week after week to see who has what it takes to stay in the game or continue towards the top prize. We pick our favorites for many reasons. Maybe we relate to their circumstances or we marvel at their skills. Maybe we just like to see the underdog win. Often the contestants in these shows come from very humble backgrounds. It is not only exciting to see our favorites win but also to see how they handle a loss.

I am particularly impressed with those who leave gracefully and thank the judges for the ability to have the experience. That is an example of success in the face of failure. They realized what they gained from participating and trying their best. Often there is evidence of their growth and the potential they had after the program has ended. For example, people like Jennifer Hudson who lost on American Idol and went on to become one of the few EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony) winners. Talk about turning around a big loss!

Failures to Avoid

It goes without saying that we are not aiming for failure just so we can learn a lesson. However, we do want to open ourselves up to the fact that failure does not defeat us – nor define us. The danger comes when we don’t even attempt something because we have already projected the possibility of failure on it. In all the scenarios of how things could turn out, we have pre-decided that failure is the one that will rise to the top. We don’t start because we are ‘pretty sure’ we are going to fail.

Wow, what psychic abilities we give ourselves!

Fear of failure can paralyze us into a state of non-action. Without trying new things and exploring new ideas we are stagnant and growth is hindered.

Another aspect of failure that we should be wary of is the need for perfection. Expectations of perfection are deeply tied to the failure to start. We remain inactive because we set the bar so incredibly high that it is impossible to visualize ourselves achieving it.

The Leader’s Role in Failure

If, as a leader, you create a work environment where “failure is not an option,” you are setting your business and your employees up to fail. In Ralph Heath’s book,  Celebrating Failure: The Power of Taking Risks, Making Mistakes and Thinking Big he explains how employees will react, “Instead they choose to play it safe, to fly below the radar, repeating the same safe choices over and over again. They operate under the belief that if they make no waves, they attract no attention; no one will yell at them for failing because they generally never attempt anything great at which they could possibly fail (or succeed).”

If an employee is in under the constant pressure that they could lose their job if they make a mistake, why would they even attempt to innovate or bring something new to the table? The risk is too great.

It is understandable that companies may want to take a more cautious approach in our changing economic times. Taking a risk could be financially damaging. However, couldn’t standing still, or worse, moving backward because we fear failure be just as damaging?

Making Failure an Asset

“Do not be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again.

– Richard Branson

There are some amazing companies that embrace failure as part of their culture and have found ways to live harmoniously with their inevitable periodic malfunctions. For example, 3M is proud to say that its company is founded on failure. When their early mining efforts failed to produce the mineral they were planning for, they shifted what they would produce to use the material that was available in their mine. 3M sandpaper was born. Later on, this type of flexibility gave birth to such notably successful products as Scotchgard and Post-It Notes. Their company focus is away from failure and toward ‘unexpected discoveries.’  As 3M past President William McKnight famously told his managers, “Encourage experimental doodling. If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need.”

Some companies incentivize risk-taking by allocating a percentage of their employees’ work time to innovating. Other companies have a practice of paying their staff for new ideas. The IT and networking giant Cisco supports its employees by allowing them to take the good ideas they have and begin their own startups. These are all amazing opportunities to inspire risk-taking and even failure, as well as to have a chance at phenomenal success.

For more inspiration stemming from failure, you could catch one of the traveling exhibits from Sweden’s Museum of Failure. These enlightening exhibits display epic product and service fails from all over our globe. The museum, curated by Dr. Samuel West, licensed psychologist and Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology, “aims to stimulate productive discussion about failure and inspire us to take meaningful risks.” You might be surprised at how many of these unsuccessful products come from very familiar and highly successful companies.

Supporting Failure and Success

There are some bright spots to encourage us to fail in the pursuit of knowledge and innovation. One very exciting effort is aimed at getting a younger demographic to see the positive sides of failure. A nonprofit claiming the title of America’s #1 Student Motivational Program is called “Brave Enough to Fail.” Their programs, scholarships, and awards encourage students to dream, develop a success strategy, get out of their comfort zone, and ‘stick to it’ with perseverance and work. Their goal is to cultivate leaders, creators, and achievers. Just last month the 3M Corporation Foundation gave their second grant to one of the program students, as well as encouraged their employees to volunteer their time to the program.

How to Work With Failure

You do not have to work for a corporation worth billions to find your own success through failure. Here are a few approaches you can try for accepting and addressing failure as a partner and not the enemy:

  • Evaluate continually – not just at the completion of the work
  • Get input from everyone involved to understand the full picture of what happened
  • Look for any knowledge you gained about the process even when you did not achieve your goal
  • Make needed corrections and changes without disparaging yourself or your team
  • Identify anything praiseworthy in the failed project and share the positive as well as the less successful aspects
  • Remember that you can stop at any time in the process to re-evaluate and shift course. Just because you made a plan doesn’t mean you have to keep it in play (especially if you are experiencing issues that could be corrected or processes that could be scrapped)
  • Stay away from panic and blame as they are counter-productive

Failing (and Succeeding) with Style

“Only those who dare to fail can ever achieve greatly.

– Robert F. Kennedy

We all encounter fails in our lives. Children usually take quite a few spills when learning to walk or ride a bike. If only we could look at more of our adult challenges with the same idea that there will be a few spills along the way. And maybe, just maybe, we are not the bike-riding kind. Guess what, that’s okay too. We have other talents we can call upon.
Just because you are struggling doesn’t mean you are failing. As we move forward in 2022, I challenge all of us to try to look for what’s right in being wrong.

JuliGeskepeer, #FightingwithFailure #FailuretoSuccess, #growththroughfailure, #Success, #2022success, #successinanyarena, #successfulleaders, #bepresent, #acceptance, #emotionalintelligence, #wellbeing, #leadership, #juligeskepeerauthor


Award-Winning Finalist in the 2022 International Book Awards!

Your senses can become your strategy and your roadmap to becoming a successful leader. Please take a moment to explore my book, 5 Senses for Success: Strategies to Thrive in Any Arena. I am very proud to share these approaches and truly achievable practices that were born out of my own life and career experiences and strategic research. Each of us has it within us to achieve success and create healthier relationships within ourselves and with others

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Juli Geske Peer is a leadership, relationship, and accountability strategist whose professional credentials include two academic degrees, mediator training, train-the-trainer certification, two coaching certifications, numerous other learning and certification accomplishments, and now, author!

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