Failure is a word. Words can be manipulated. Certainly, failure on first acquaintance appears unpleasant but if we look beyond that initial first reaction we can view it as a gauge to improvement. It also provides the impetus to re-group and acts as the challenge to our creativity. With luck and hard work, it can bring out the very best in us.
Our negative view of failure, or rather society’s view, can stop that from happening. Making mistakes is acceptable, failing isn’t and failing often is unconscionable. For some reason as soon as the word appears, reason flies out the window. Why? We failed early and survived. Why shouldn’t we fail often and keep surviving or possibly do better than that by improving whatever it is we are doing?
I am an English teacher and so there are expectations when I write but I make silly errors and I make them often. I have worked hard to be comfortable with this, and I work harder to make my students comfortable with their errors. Not complacent, comfortable and there is a difference. I had to learn that because without realising it I managed to cross over into the second phase, the one where we fail often.
There is so much out there to learn, and I can’t do it all at once. I am sure some people can. I can’t, so the only way forward was to accept failing often. Rather than a comfort zone I sought being comfortable with failing often, and consequently the negative connotations have been replaced with believing each failure will offer secrets, new information to make the next time easier.
This is what I encourage in my students, this understanding, because it encourages both the continuation of the learning process, and the love of learning. I know I will never reach the stage of stopping. Why would I want to stop something so amazing? Knowledge, and the improvement it brings, is the most satisfying thing in the world. Suddenly that too often fail begins to look more like a win.
I edited over 90,000 words. Of course, I wasn’t going to get it right (FAIL). I learned so much, so much more than I expected (WIN). I did it again and missed things again (FAIL). I recognised what I had missed in my work and I am recognising it in other places. In fact, so much so, that each day I grow a little in confidence (WIN) despite never ending errors that come my way constantly (FAIL). You see, I am learning to transfer that recognition to other work I have in progress (WIN). I have also stopped beating myself up (HUGE WIN).
This is my experience, a personal experience in this journey I have chosen. I am equally sure that you are experiencing something similar in your chosen fields of employment, or even in life in general. I have wished I had never stepped foot on this road so many times. Can you relate? It is so exhausting, mentally and physically, to chase a dream. Succeeding is not about the adage, if at first you don’t succeed try, try again. That would be too simple. It leaves out the fact, the acknowledgement, that failure is valuable. Succeeding is about the willingness to learn from that failure and letting it fuel your next step. I wrote a little poem about my process and making choices.
The do do might be my undoing but I couldn’t resist it. Time is a friend and sometimes time is an enemy, and if we are not dedicated enough to persevere we could end up with this rhyme instead.
Life is for living, and failing is a big part of living well. Stay tune for Part 3
The Evolution of Failure – failing forward.