Wouldn’t it be lovely if we never failed?
We had an idea, we acted upon it, and all worked out perfectly.
As we’re all too aware, life doesn’t work that way and the older we get, the more failures we accumulate.
But while it might factually be true that we failed to achieve our desired outcome, the story we tell about that failure is what affects our emotions and our ability to be in action and move forward.
Just a few of my many failures
When I was a teenager, I attended a sign language course. I thought it’d be useful – and fun – to learn how to communicate in a different way. I failed the exam at the end of the course.
I applied to be Head Girl at my school and didn’t get voted in. (I re-applied to be Deputy Head Girl and didn’t get voted in for that either.)
In my early twenties, I told my friend I fancied him and he said he didn’t feel the same.
I wrote a novel and had the manuscript rejected by a dozen publishers.
After training as a co-active coach, I managed to get a meeting with a big private school in Cambridge with the intention of bringing coaching to all their students. They didn’t hire me in.
I spent years (and money) exploring natural vision improvement, yet I still wear glasses and contact lenses.
I failed to speak kindly to my wife during a recent conversation.
These are the facts. I failed at these things, and many many more.
But what does that mean?
There’s the literal definition of failing – not meeting a particular result or expectation – and then there’s the interpretation we give it.
One of the most significant learnings from my coach training back in 2005 was that our experience of a situation depends on the perspective we take, and what’s so empowering is that we get to question whether a perspective is serving us, and then we get to choose our perspective.
An event or set of circumstances exists – but we hold a position in relation to that situation. Often, we’re not aware that we hold a position and that our position can be challenged.
It’s as if we’re at the theatre and we’re sitting in one particular seat and we’ve been sitting there so long that we believe it’s The Seat. It’s not a particularly comfortable seat, but we tell ourselves this is just the seat that we have to sit in, and we settle.
We don’t realise that we’re only experiencing one point of view on failing – and that if we were to look around, we’d see that many other seats are empty and we could move around until we find the seat that offers us the best, most enjoyable view.
How will you complete the sentence?
I used to run a workshop called Fail Is Not A Four Letter Word and I created a simple yet powerful practical exercise for us all to re-approach our failures.
Participants would start by identifying their default perspective on their failings; they came up with stories like:
“Failing is… evidence I’m no good.”
“Failing is… embarrassing.”
“Failing is… the end of the road.”
What happens when we believe this about our failures?
We play small. We stop trying. We don’t take risks in case we fail again.
And then because life is life, we fail anyway and we beat ourselves up. We vow to avoid that route next time. Life becomes limited, there are less opportunities available to us.
If you’re not comfortable, move seat
In my workshop, the central activity involved generating other perspectives on failing and then trying them on.
We came up with:
“Failing is… a sign I’m human.”
“Failing is… feedback.”
“Failing is… evidence that I’m taking risks.”
and many more. The possibilities would explode once the realisation hit that perspective is changeable.
We would move around our metaphorical theatre, searching for a perspective which felt true and that would be empowering enough to fuel bold action.
Time for a new seat?
Once you find a perspective that is true and empowering, you can choose it.
You get to determine what failing means to you so that it can exist as an integrated part of your human experience, rather than a block to pursuing the life you want.
Over to you
Make a list of times you’ve failed. Choose either your most recent failure, or the past failure with the greatest sting, and note the story you’ve been telling about it. Failing here means – what?
Now, “try on” some other perspectives, like the ones mentioned above. For each, ask yourself: could this be just as true as your original perspective? Is it more empowering? How would you live differently if you genuinely saw failing this way?
Leave a comment below, let us know what you notice.
P.S. PASS IT ON
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© Corrina Gordon-Barnes
The older we get, the more failures we accumulate. What story will we tell about them? – asks @CorrinaGB