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