Redefining Failure

Is there anywhere in your life that you feel like you are failing? It’s a very uncomfortable feeling. No one likes to fail, do they? Fear of failure can leave people stuck for years, decades even, in situations that do not serve them because they are too scared to fail so they don’t move at all. Fear of failure is an incredibly common unhappiness trap. And yet, the paradox is that when we observe at uber-successful people they have generally had more “failures” than the average person, Steve Jobs and Richard Branson to name but two. Could failure be an intrinsic part of success?

Here is what I see successful people thinking and doing about failure:

  1. They allow themselves to fail. They are not scared of failure. They know failure is an inevitability of the path of a life well lived. An unavoidable component of a life that contains some risk, adventure, and growth. Not everything will work out, it’s impossible to know in advance, but that shouldn’t stop the journey. They are not scared to fail because failure is not scary. Failure is just a part of life.

  3. They do not define themselves by the failure. They don’t make the failure all about them: they keep the failure external. That relationship failed. That business venture failed. It was tough. It hurt. It could have been different or better. There is much to be learned. And things to be changed. This is really different to internalizing the failure and telling yourself “I’ve failed. I’m a failure”. Successful people see failure as a catalyst for change and self-reflection but not self-hate or blame.

  5. They don’t get paralyzed by failure. They keep moving, they don’t dwell on it. Learn. Move. Fail. Learn. Move. They take action. They don’t let failure become an excuse to procrastinate and stall. They fail fast so they can keep the momentum going.
Samuel Beckett once wrote: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better”.
The Financial Times said Mark Zuckerberg’s updated version would read: “Try again. Fail faster”.
Samuel Beckett also wrote: “This sums it up perfectly. Successful people do not let failure drain them of momentum or purpose.

  1. They see failure as a data collection exercise into what doesn’t work. It’s not failure: it’s an opportunity to learn something. They are curious about why it failed and what can be learned.

  3. They look for the positives even in the face of a very negative situation. “That launch did not drive customers like we expected, on the plus side it refined our customer complain process into something more robust going forward”. ”That relationship didn’t work out, it’s been horribly painful. On the plus side I have learned an important boundary around the speed and process with which I would attempt a blended family again”.

In short, successful people are not scared of failure because it is not scary. They do not have a rigid idea of what success looks like. They enjoy the ride. They can look at the experience as a whole and find some gratitude in it before moving swiftly on. They are not afraid to talk about their failures. They don’t bury them. They see them as part of the path to their success.

If you have an area of life that is currently failing, that’s an amazing opportunity to learn something profound about yourself and your situation. Redefining “failure” as a stepping-stone on the route to success can be a powerful mindset shift that will bring you results across all facets of your life.

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