Success? Failure? Experience.

This post is a risk. What if it fails?

  • Everyone will laugh at me;
  • I’ll be criticised;
  • Nobody will ever want to associate themselves with me.

Right, that’s three things to start worrying about.

I could stop right here and not bother at all. Nobody wants to lose credibility for attempting something new, right?

But what about the possibility that it will succeed?

  • Everyone will cheer with me;
  • I’ll be praised;
  • Everybody will want to associate themselves with me.
edge (photo by virtualwayfarer)

It’s a long way down… (photo by virtualwayfarer)

Neither of these possibilities rings true. But, like me, I’m sure you’ve had times when you see things in such a right/wrong, win/lose way. Things will turn out one way or the other.

Keep battling that feeling. The reality is never so clear cut.

When you think in such extremes, it’s easy to choose doing nothing over trying something new. The thought of failing can push your dreams back fast.

That’s when dreams remain dreams. You imagine great success if only you could succeed. But the fear of getting it wrong is too much.

I don’t like this way of looking at life. From this perspective, we’re standing on a rock. Looking one way, you’re at the edge of a cliff, a step away from falling. Looking the other way, the rest of the cliff rises up thousands of feet, challenging you to climb.

You don’t want to fall. That’s a given. But the climb looks hard too. You’d love to reach the top, but one false move will set you plummeting to the ground.

The best option is clear. Stay on the rock. You’re safe there. No need to take your chances when you’re on firm footing here.

Phew. That feels better.

No. I don’t like this way of looking at life. That’s not how things work.

We’re not on a rock, faced with a dangerous fall or a dangerous climb. But the metaphor is comfy. In difficult choices comes the need for an easy route.

Why? Because it’s easy to stay firmly on your rock. It’s your comfort zone. It’s what you know.

Going through a life of tests, exams, and the pressure to be right, you can’t be blamed for wanting to play it safe. One false move and you lose your place on your rock.

No. I really don’t like this way of looking at life.

Our relationship with failure and success causes so many problems. We see them as extremes when more focus should be on experiences. With each experience, we continue to learn.

Prepare to make things work, but don’t wait for perfection and don’t be scared of mistakes. That way, your risks are at least calculated. Random leaps of faith are not to be taken on a regular basis.

You are not standing on a rock. You have more choice than a sheer fall or a crazy climb.

Experiences are useful. Some are more positive than others. Keep looking for them.

Don’t dwell so much on success and failure. Choose experiences over extremes.

How to Fail Brilliantly

None of us want to fail. If you could pass everything with flying colours, you would.

However, that requires work.

When you put the effort in, not everything is perfect. You have to get used to it. You’re going to fail once in a while.

original by action datsun
original by action datsun

So why not fail brilliantly? Here’s some help on how to use failure to your advantage:

  • Separate aspects of failure out of your control from those you can deal with – Control freaks don’t appreciate matters that are out of their control. Nevertheless, they exist. Anything you can deal with, concentrate on that. As for the stuff you don’t have a handle of, be aware of it as a random force.
  • Spend more time on rectifying, not blaming – Now you’ve worked out what’s outside your control, work out how best to move on. Don’t attribute blame to others in the process. Spend time more fruitfully: work with others to reach a more favourable conclusion; choose other variables/individuals with better potential; bypass the problem areas completely, if possible. Time spent solving problems is more effective than wasting time accusing others.
  • Analyse why the failure occurred – If you don’t know why events unfolded the way they did, how can you learn from the failure? Take stock of what happened before you try again. For any elements that don’t make sense, try finding out more in that area before moving on.
  • Accept – Sometimes we make the same mistakes again and again due to denial. It *has* to work this way.
    But does it really? Okay, certain situations may succeed eventually with a bit of patience and better circumstances. But most situations will fail until you do something different. Don’t be stubborn if other opportunities arise. Be open to change. You can’t be right all the time!
  • Understand which aspects of the situation *were* successful – The end result may not be perfect, but failure doesn’t mean you must start from scratch. What you do isn’t usually characterised by a succeed/fail mentality. There’s a lot of movement in between. Use the mini successes within a bigger picture fail until you have a bunch of mini-successes from start to finish.
  • Use failure as part of a process, or as a tool – You don’t pick up a tool and use it without learning a bit about it first. Even if it’s only the basics. Before mastering a process or tool, you spend time learning, developing and experiencing. Failure is one step closer to success because, without failure, success can’t happen either.
  • Be responsible – A lot of failure can be turned around by taking a bit more responsibility. Imagine working your butt off for an essay and only getting a bare pass. Then imagine all that hard work was condensed into 48 hours before the essay was due in. You knew it wouldn’t be best to leave the assignment until the last minute, but for many, that’s exactly what happens. It’s what I call a ‘covert failure’. By taking responsibility from the outset, you can manage the situation more clearly and work your butt off without breaking into a sweat. From covert failure to double win.

Now you can fail better, you may still not like failing. Don’t worry, I’ve got tips on how to pick yourself up after a fall too.

Now get out there and start failing, you awesome person, you!

Will You Be a Fantastic Failure or Awesome Underachiever?

Is it better to ‘underachieve’ or to ‘fail’?

The Harvard Business Review Blog recently talked about the best type of failure to learn from.  The article states: “The essential insight is that partial failures are far more valuable than total breakdowns.”

photo by KungPaoCajun

photo by KungPaoCajun

So is failure too much to learn anything?

Apparently an element of success is necessary to allow greater success to follow.  Therefore, underperformance is preferable to complete failure.

In my mind, the words ‘failure’ and ‘underachiever’ are too subjective to differentiate.  The HBR piece even admits, “underperformance is a form of failure”.

This being the case, how prepared should we be to fail?  If we can’t answer that, how do we know how far to go before we’ve failed too much to learn anything from?

Stefan of Study Successful (who I mentioned just recently on here), told me that it’s important to fail:

“That is the way you will learn things! Underperform will take a lot of time to actually learn something…Failure will be a slap in the face, forces you to learn faster. How do you notice underperformance?”

Stefan explores the matter further at his blog.

As I see it, failure can be a slap, but only if you’re prepared to accept it.  The same can be said for underperformance.  If you’re in denial, you won’t let anything slap you down.  You must accept the fact that problems don’t just belong to other people.

Once you start the process of identifying personal weaknesses and admitting shortcomings, you’re in a better position to start learning from all sorts of failure.  In terms of the HBR piece, they were discussing the state of physical buildings.  While they make pertinent points, the situation isn’t as simple for our subjective and chaotic minds.  Physical forces are certainly unpredictable, but in completely different ways to the brain.

By the nature of who we are, we all make mistakes every day.  You can’t stop making them, but you can look at how to make sense of those mistakes, how to recognise mistakes, and how far you’re willing to accept your own mistakes in order to change.

The subjectiveness of failure brings up all sorts of opinions and ideas:

  • Seth Godin – “If you spend your days avoiding failure by doing not much worth criticizing, you’ll never have a shot at success.”
  • Daniel H. Pink – “Most people are more frightened of failure than of mediocrity. It should be the reverse.”
  • David Rogers – “Definitions of failure effectively put it as the opposite of success, being unsuccessful. However, failure is a far more emotive word.”
  • Ririan – “All it takes is for you to have the courage to fail once in a while.”
  • Michael J. Formica – “…we all possess the potential to rise from the ashes of our own defeat, if we can get out of our own way long enough to see what lessons that defeat has wrought.”

How do you learn from your mistakes?  What level of failure are you best at working with?  And would you rather develop after underachieving or totally failing?