Seeing Failure as a Critical Part of Success
When we think about common fear, many times we think about visible tangible things like heights (acrophobia), water (aquaphobia) or enclosed spaces (claustrophobia). While looking at these things, in their outward form, can trigger terror in some of us, there is one thing that, while invisible can trigger terror in the deepest recesses of our brains. What I’m talking about here is, Atychiphobia, a fear of failure.
If we fail at something, a job, a relationship, a diet, etc. in most cases it won’t cause certain death, like falling from a high place, or drowning may. So why is it so scary for so many of us? I think part of it is that failing puts us in an uncomfortable place, a place where we ask, “what’s wrong with me?” or say “I’m not good enough.” We can also shift the blame and say things like “It is someone else’s fault” or “(insert external uncontrollable factor here) happened and that is why I failed, I never catch a break, it’s not my fault.” Today, I want to address and unpack all these thoughts and talk about why mistakes and failures are the most valuable part of the learning and growth process.
Let’s start with the “What’s wrong with me?” question. Answer: There is nothing wrong with you, failure and mistakes are part of life. Here is the good news, if you have experienced a failure, you took the first critical step in growth and that is having the courage to put yourself out there and attempt something hard. What you can’t do, is use the experience of failure to not try or put yourself out there again. What needs to happen is a deep reflection on what happened and why it happened. Let’s use the example of failing at a diet. First, what was the diet, is it something that was sustainable long term? If not, why not and how can you modify so that it is something you can sustain long term. If you started binge eating, why did you engage in that behavior, what were you thinking and feeling? When you answer those questions, you can start to modify thoughts and behaviors and take the steps necessary to succeed.
The I’m not good enough thought… YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH! See above… We all experience failures and mistakes. This is worth saying again. Literally, everyone experiences mistakes and failure. I’d recommend reading biography’s of people you see as successful. Those people have had struggles and failures and the reason they are successful is because they learned from and moved on from them. A great example of this is Shoe Dog by Phil Knight the founder of Nike. If you have some time give it a read.
Next, let’s look at the blame response. This is the “it’s someone or something else’s fault that I failed.” This takes me back to sophomore year Math class with Mrs. Sheerer. Every day, she’d start class with the Serenity Prayer “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” As a dumb 16 year old kid I said those words every day for a year without thinking much about them or the actual profound message they held. We can not waste time and energy worrying about things that are not in our control, I can not stress that enough. There are too many things that are within our control to worry about and address. If there are people that are brining you down and causing you to fail, those people need to be cut from your life or you need to ignore them. If a bad thing happens that is out of our control we need to recognize that we are never going to be able to keep those things from happening, but, what we can control is our reaction to them. That external uncontrollable thing isn’t a free pass to self-destruct. It’s a challenge that needs to be overcome.
To wrap this all up, the point is this… Failure, mistakes, challenges, obstacles, those are the things that push us to success. For many of us, our natural inclination is to avoid them. But avoiding them keeps us in a place of existing and not thriving. First, we need to have the courage to try. Once we do that, we need to have the courage to fail and the wisdom to really dissect that failure and not repeat it. Failure is a critical part of success, you can not have one without the other.