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Failing Spectacularly: The Phoenix From the Flame

What is the thing we try to avoid at all costs yet is at times, absolutely inevitable?  Personal, professional and even physical failure sends many people to addiction or in better case scenarios, to the therapist.  Most of the reasons that a flop feels so toxic is that we believe it defines us to our core.  Failure means I/we are irresponsible, clueless and worthless or that we forever lack the needed drive, skills and abilities.   In actuality, it is how we handle the failure that truly creates our mark on the world.  Does it haunt and hinder, stopping us in our tracks or do we recognize the experience as one that gives us a leg up to do better next time?

In a recent commencement speech, spiritual teacher Pema Chodron talked about what it means to fail well.  This includes being able to first be with the pain.  This means not making it about anything but the conditions present this one time.  In other words, drop the story about what it means about your character.  Instead realize that whenever making an attempt to create something, a part of us is exposed.  It is this vulnerability that clears a path to true growth and development.   If I really want to be connected, I have to reach out.  If I want to truly achieve a skill, I’ve got to practice it.  If I really want to get better, I need to hear feedback.

Brene Brown, a leading researcher in the realms of vulnerability and shame, talks about the universality of the struggle around failure, including how much we try to hide it as we think it detracts from “who we are supposed to be”.   But it’s a trap, because setting yourself up with an expectation of never making a mistake invites in “anxiety as a lifestyle”, which bluntly put, is a hellish way to live, physically, mentally and emotionally.

But where would you even begin to start changing the habitual thinking we have related to failure?

1.    Just know, that anyone who you have failed in front of, has also failed.  If they are good at what they do now, there’s a decent chance that they became very well acquainted with their own fiascoes and washouts along the way.

2.    Greatness is in inextricably connected to failure.  “Gone with the Wind” was rejected 38 times before being published.  Several American record companies passed on signing a band known as the Beatles.  Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times in comparison to his 714 home runs and we all know Steve Jobs was first fired from his own company before coming back and orchestrating the iconic success behind Apple.  Think of something you have mastered that at one point, was nothing but a source of struggle.  What got you to where you are now?

3.    When faced with a failure consider how a lack of success could make your endeavor stronger in the end.  Reinforce that by asking what do you know from the attempt not working that you didn’t know at the onset.  Also, acknowledge your feelings, as opposed to suppressing them, and then as you pick yourself up, ask what supports and changes do you need to do this better in the future.

“Fall down seven times, get up eight.” – Japanese Proverb

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