Focused on Failure… And Why That’s a Good Thing

Tricia Helfer from Battlestar Galactica

Failure is a funny sort of topic to write about, quite frankly.  I mean… just look at the word.  Failure.  There’s simply nothing attractive about it.  It doesn’t feel good to say and God only knows it never brings with it a single glimmering positive connotation of any kind, shape or sort.  It just sits there looking at you with this smug smirk of self-satisfaction because it knows you and it are not strangers to each other’s company.  Oh no… we are all humans and it’s essentially hardwired into our genetic code to face many failures in our lives.  Wait, if you are reading this you ARE human, right?  Not some freaky-deaky Cylon?  See, this is what I get for watching several seasons worth of Battlestar Galactica during my Christmas holiday break… I mean, unless you look like Tricia Helfer as a Cylon.  Then we’re square.

But failure is something I’ve written about once or twice before on this very blog, mostly because despite all of the negativity associated with it, it’s really a pretty fascinating topic to me… whether it’s why we fail, how we fight against failure and, most importantly to me, how we respond to our own failures.

I am confident that part of my focus on failure is based on a book my Mom gave me several years back when I was going through a very rough patch in my own life.  The book is by John C. Maxwell and it’s entitled “Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes Into Stepping Stones For Success” and it really shifted my thinking on how I view my own shortcomings, mistakes and failures.  I’m not going to claim victory over failure forever and that I can walk away from my failures as if they never ever occurred… but I am getting a lot better at handling my mistakes for sure.

I bought the book again recently for my Kindle since I couldn’t find the original hardcover… I have to believe I lent it to someone at one point or another.  Several passages within it struck chords with me all over again and I wanted to share a few of them.

First:

When achievers fail, they see it as a momentary event, not a lifelong epidemic.

Second:

Tell yourself, “I’m not a failure. I failed at doing something.” There’s a big difference.

In all honesty, it was difficult to narrow it down to 2 quotes from the book because I highlighted quite a few more than that.  However, I think these 2 are timely and serve a bit of a key message as 2010 comes to an end and people begin to think with hope (hopefully!) about what lies ahead in 2011.  And these two quotes link up with each other so beautifully to create a singular point on failure that bears a little time noodling over.  So be prepared to noodle, my friends… seriously, prepare yourself.  Get a comfy chair, a cup of green tea and a little Tchaikovsky or something.

The first point is about how failure is just that’s fleeting… if you approach it that way.  It’s a singular event and a moment in time – it’s not the blueprint for how the rest of your life will unfold.  Hell, it’s not even the blueprint for how the activity you failed at will always unfold… provided that’s how you look at it.  Therein lies the challenge, no doubt… to isolate the moment as just a moment, give it thought and move on.

The second point gets to how whatever the failure was… it was an event… it was not you.  But we all tend to view it that way at some point in our lives, don’t we?  “I’m such a failure!”  Ugh… just typing those words made my fingers feel dirty and in need of a hard scrubbing.  Bleah.  We personalize how we act as being an encompassing part of who we are… and isn’t that completely insane?  Especially since we rarely tend to do that with a success, but damn… we will latch onto a failure like a drowning man clutching a life vest.

And that’s where these 2 points converge into a single notion… that while you will fail many times in your life, those failures are events unto themselves and are not YOU.  If your failures truly do define you in any way, I would argue that they only do so by showing you were the kind of person willing to take daring enough actions that would risk failure in the first place.  If you never fail… well, good Lord… did you ever really try in the first place?

That’s why I focus on failure… because if I am never missing, then maybe my targets are no better than a timid goal set without ambition, daring, verve or even imagination… and I don’t know about you, but that sound like a horribly boring way to shuffle through life.

So while I may not be a riverboat gambler when it comes to risk, I will seek to push myself and risk a few scraped knees along the way.  It will give me something to talk about later.

5 thoughts on “Focused on Failure… And Why That’s a Good Thing”

  1. Another question might be who defines what is a failure? In a win or lose competition where score is kept, it’s pretty easy to see who won. In life, if you let them, other people will define your success or failure. Am I a failure if I don’t become an executive and get the corner office? What if, in forgoing the company car and year-end IC, I become a success as a father, a husband, a neighbor or even a fisherman? Who is the success – the happy man with a small house or the miserable guy “moving up” every couple of years? I think the true measurement of success is the contentment each person feels for his or her accomplishments and failure is measured by the discontent each person feels for not achieving those goals.

  2. “Failure” An interesting Blog and topic of discussion. While some people focus on failure and others often become obsessed with it or never to have failures, the key take away from a failure is to learn from the experience. Let’s face it, no one likes to fail. Well, no competitive person likes to fail. Some people dwell on failures and often take comfort in the consolation others offer. The competitive person, such as athletes, leaders, and persons of strong character recognize failures, accept the results, but use it as an opportunity to learn and make themselves better. If you never fail, you also never take risks and cannot develop to your full potential. So what is my point? Don’t be afraid to take a risk or try something you have not done before simply because you are afraid to fail. If you don’t like the results, pick yourself up, dust off and give it another go. Learn from the experience. Life is not a spectator sport, it is an experience and those experiences make us who we are, and who we will become.

  3. Well-said, Al. I think a lot of people tend to get focus on career success = life success, without any broader view. I always use the analogy (and I know I’ve gotten it from other sources for sure) that if I were to look back at the end of my life and think about what I was most proud of, it would be things like being a great son, brother, friend, husband, uncle, etc. That I took time to coach my nephews in sports. That my closest friends knew they could rely on me when things got ugly. It will never be that I had the biggest bonus check or nicest company car. Ever.

  4. I am also enjoying the fact that the two military guys (Al from the Army and Greg from the Navy) are latching onto this topic with such refreshing perspectives. I am 99.9999% sure that’s not just coincidence.

    And I really agree, Greg. Am I happy I did that first strongman competition? Damn straight. Am I satisfied with the results? Lord no. Will all of that push me to do a little better? Yup, I like to think so.

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