If I had to sum up 2015 in one word, it’d be this: Failure.
This is the year I learned how to fail. And for the most part, not gracefully.
I did learn this though: With a scoop of Humble Pie, a Failure can easily turn into a Success.
Let me explain…
First off, you should know that I’ve avoided the F-word like the plague. Ever since 1st grade, when they had us line up side-by-side in the schoolyard at the end of recess, and I got the stern look from the school-aide for giggling, that was it. I never wanted to experience that look again so I did my damnedest to stay out of trouble.
Mistakes not allowed. Always stay on the good side of authority.
If you thought admitting ‘I’m not perfect’ a year ago was a big pill to swallow, trust me, admitting ‘I have failed’, was a pill so big, it got stuck in my throat more than a few times.
After finally choking it down, I woke up to this secret: In order to be successful, you have to fail.
I took a step back. If failure is so necessary, where’s the ‘How To’ guide? And more importantly, how come the idea of it gives me agita?
Maybe my definition of failure was off?
Nope. Thanks to google I’m completely on board with the many definitions of fail:
- Be unsuccessful in achieving one’s goal. Check. There are many goals that have not come to fruition. Let’s see… 2 downloadable products on my website that didn’t generate one sale, 2 group programs that no one signed up for, at least 4 potential clients this year that ended up saying ‘No’.
- Neglect to do something. Double Check. The number of times I said, ‘I will contact so-and-so this week.’ or ‘I will write about xyz.’ and for whatever reason, didn’t.
- Cease to work properly; break down. I love the example they give here… as in ‘cease trading because of lack of funds’ Ha! Our fish farm hasn’t even had the luxury of starting to trade and we’ve experienced a of lack of funds.
- A mark which is not high enough to pass an examination or test. Now this is the one I’ve been most familiar with. Not because I ever did end up with an F on a paper or exam, but because I always knew not to go here. Even when I scraped by with a D+ and a D- in two college courses (both in psychology and now I analyze people’s minds for living… i know, right?) I made sure I didn’t Fail.
- A mistake, failure, or instance of poor performance. I’m not sure how the dictionary people expect this to be measured, but I can for sure say I’ve had a few F’s here. F for, royally f*cked that up. Luckily I’m not performing surgery or building rocket ships… I’m only f-ing up relationships with people. Putting big feet in my mouth, responding with an ego that is trying to cover up an enormous amount of fear that makes me come across sounding like a complete donkey.
It was only slightly less traumatic looking up the definition of failure.
‘Lack of success.’
That pretty much sums up last year, and hey, while we’re at it, might as well include 2014, the year I first ventured out to create a thriving business of my own, which has yet to get anywhere close to happening.
I was still asking this question: If failure is so necessary, why has it felt like crap?
Until I realized this: when you turn ‘I failed at xyz’ into ‘I am a failure’ you’re no longer dealing with a factual event that can be objectively looked at and learned from. You’re now dealing with shame.
And shame sucks. It feels like the biggest punch ever to your belly, the worst dagger eyes any school-aide has ever given EVER, the loudest snickers from your so-called-friends and supporters.
And most, including yours truly, would rather die than experience that. Ok maybe not die, but definitely do everything in my power to avoid feeling that way, including not trying in the first place.
But let me clue you into something else I learned this year.
You and your world do not implode into a million little pieces when you fail.
That’s because YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE.
When you fail (as in any of the 6 definitions above), your lungs and heart keep working. The world keeps turning. People keep going about their daily lives and frankly my dear, they don’t give a damn.
I made a list of my failures and successes over the last two years, and guess what, the success list was longer.
The funny thing is that until I made the list, I was only conscious of the failures.
Why? Because I was letting them define me.
Remember how failure = lack of success?
Well, since I had a long list of successes I got really excited. That means I didn’t fail, right!?
Wrong. I still failed on many individual occasions.
BUT, I also got to pick the ending of the next story.
And this is when the ball dropped:
Failure ≠ Lack of success.
Failure = Gateway to success.
If you let it.
And they DEFINITELY don’t teach you that in law school either (Extra credit to anyone who can name that movie! :))
I’m a closet fan of word etymology so had to dig deeper, and get this… the root of the word failure means this: ‘cessation of supply’. The root of the word success: ‘come close after’.
In my book, failure is a true failure if you let it stop the supply. If you freeze, take no more action, give up and walk away with your tail between your legs.
True success is what ‘comes close after’ any one of those 6 definitions of fail and you DON’T end up stopping the supply.
Success is when you pause to reflect. Ask yourself, ‘What did I learn?’, ‘What could I do differently?’ Use the unwanted outcome to point you closer to your sweet spot.
Sometimes it means pulling the plug and starting over. Sometimes it means giving yourself some space. Sometimes it means asking for help, or saying you’re sorry.
Inevitably, it takes eating some Humble Pie.
But trust me, if you do that, then you’ve just experienced Success.
The last cool thing about all of this is this:
Remember that tendency to internalize a failure (or a success) into who we are? Well, let’s try that again.
I am a ‘cessation of supply’.
I am a ‘come close after’.
Doesn’t make sense.
But this does:
I choose to ‘cessate/stop supply’.
I choose to ‘come/take action close after’.
Which means, really, I get to be a person who chooses failure or success in any given moment.
I don’t become a success or a failure.
I still get to be me.