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What Doesn’t Kill You Will Make You Stronger…

The Future of Everything.

If You Have Enough Confidence to Try.

A few years ago my son Liam announced that he has decided to try out for the school golf team. “Great,” I said, “but Liam, you have never played golf in your life.” To that he replied, “No worries, I’ll figure it out; how hard can it be?” Having been a hack golfer my entire life, I wanted to convince him not to try so he would not be disappointed, but who am I to take away a dream or chip away at his confidence? I admired his fearlessness. I was certain he would not make the team, and I think he was, too, but I also knew that if he tried and failed, and recovered, he would be better for it. His innate confidence and fearlessness is a leadership trait that I needed to nurture.

The fact is that everything we accomplish in life comes first at the foot of failure. I did not get into my college of choice, did not get every promotion I expected and did not get the client upon the first ask. The clearest example I can give is that I was first rejected by several leadership programs I applied to, only to be accepted on the second try. Ultimate acceptance to these programs came because I knew that there was a chance I would fail. I knew that the first try was like a trial, a test, an experience I needed to learn from. The consequence of failure was a possibility that I knew I could overcome and that it did not matter to me that others approved or disapproved of me. I would be lying if I said I did not care or feel disappointed, but I also knew that the outcome of the failure belonged to me, and it did not matter what others may think. It seems less intuitive, but each time we fail, overcome, and ultimately succeed, our confidence skyrockets. Leaders are built on failure, recovery and a slow building of confidence. The key is to first try.

Just to be clear, confidence begins with the try, but is realized with ultimate accomplishment. Failure is the signal to us that we need to learn and experience more. Once we put ourselves out there, we need to accept the path of learning that will follow. That means hard work, perfecting our approach and practicing our skills. Even when we perfect our abilities, life will present new challenges and failures which continue to enrich our abilities. It’s in the knowing of ourselves, our limitations, and then driving to stretch our goals. If you examine every success you have had you will recall the path of struggles and challenges that you just kept working through. If you think of any leader you know, or from history, you will find the struggle and overcoming of confidence. Abraham Lincoln, Colin Powell, Steve Jobs and Oprah Winfrey all built their success on failure built confidence. So can we.

If we examine our most troubling failures, it sometimes is the failure to try. Not trying feels worse. If Liam had not tried out for the golf team he may have not ever tried out for theater, which turned out to be one of his biggest success so far. How might he have felt if he never tried these things and ultimately found what he loved? What if Steve Jobs gave up upon Apple’s biggest failures, or if Oprah took the advice she was given that someone like her could never make it in broadcasting. I think they all would have felt much worse if they did not try. Rather, they experienced the joy of overcoming and continued to build their dynasties. They all failed, we all will, but the trying and the ultimate reward is confidence.

Let’s challenge each other to examine our confidence. Instilling confidence in others does not mean just cheering people on. It means being honest, supportive and encouraging some level of failure. This is how we build success, a great team, a great company and ultimately contribute positively to the world. You, we all, can do it. I challenge you all with the following actions:

  • Try things that are a stretch. Sometimes we protect ourselves from failure by not trying at all. We may rationalize the logic that it’s not worth it, but really we may be protecting our confidence from a blow. It won’t hurt that much if you don’t let it.
  • When you fail realize it is part of the journey. Take stock of the situation, smile to yourself, and calculate what is next along that path. It may include trying again, what the heck. On the second try you should have more confidence.
  • Take your own council on the situation. People who care about you may try to protect you from failure or save you when you do. Listen to yourself about your goals and what things you will learn from.
  • After failure, don’t disappear. Call the people involved and thank them for the opportunity, ask questions about how you can improve, be recognized as fearless, and enlist them in championing you. People love the underdog and will try to help you next time.
  • When someone else has fails at something, don’t feel bad for them, get excited about what is next for them.
  • Know that people are attracted to confidence, and you may even make the cut because they feel it from you. Confidence is both attractive and contagious.

In all honesty, I admire people most when they have overcome something, and we all have our stories of struggle to tell. Liam is now applying to colleges and will likely not make the cut of every choice. But, his growing confidence can stand a few blows and will likely set him in a direction of learning all kinds of lessons.

Dr. Russ Ouellette is the managing partner of Sojourn Partners, a Bedford-based executive leadership strategy and coaching firm. He can be reached at (603) 472-8103 or russ@sojournpartners.com. He can also be twittered@RussOuellette or Facebooked – Sojourn Partners.

Re-published courtesy of NH Business Review

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