Why learn how to fail?


Last week I participated in a Virtual Success Summit as I was looking for more inspiration for my mentoring and coaching development. I did not set any expectations for this event, so it did not come as a surprise that most of the talks about success were based on the pain, repetitive failure and stories of struggle. Most of us are so focused on the end goal and desire for significant accomplishment that we tend to underestimate and forget to enjoy the journey it takes to become successful. Many articles on the internet talk about learning from failure, but if you do not know how to fail – how do you learn?

The power of failure

At the early stage of my career I was forbidden to fail. The circumstances of my very first project dictated no tolerance for failure as the stakes were too high. This situation has created my insatiable desire for perfection in everything I do, every single detail had to be triple checked. Back then I did not understand that perfection was achieved by training, failing, improving and trying again. I rejected my flaws, hid all my weaknesses, and ignored the pain. It was not long until I fell apart as my body could not handle the stress anymore. It took me a while before admitting my perfectionism syndrome and deciding to do something about it.

By nature, I am a very curious person that loves to travel to meet and experience new cultures. I enjoy trying new things be it a foreign cuisine or a new sport. I have frequently engaged in numerous volunteering activities and projects where I could meet new people and gain new knowledge. By forbidding myself to experience failure I was in reality forbidding myself be who I am. Everything that is new and unexplored brings an equal chance of failure and success. I realized that the only way to do and feel better was to learn how to fail, in other words I needed to fail so I could learn.

How do I practice failing

I stopped taking advice from people who base their success on pure luck of being in the right place at the right time. Statistically, I agree, it is possible to hit the jackpot, but to my understanding in order to achieve repetitive success there is a need to practice repetitive failure. Also not enjoying the 8-hour ascent to the top of the hill is not giving me joy when finally reaching it. So, I discovered the need to enjoy my journey to the top of that mountain I picked to climb in order to enjoy the moment I get there.

Most of the time failing is an unpleasant and painful experience that makes me emotional and sad. So occasionally I allow myself to fail successfully. What does that mean? It means I let myself pick a battle I cannot win, take a course I do not understand, cook a meal I do not know how to cook. This strategy helps me do something where I have a higher chance of failing. In that case if I fail – I succeed in failing and this makes the pain of failure bearable.

Obviously, I want to succeed eventually, so I do not forget to practice setting myself up for success. The difference is that today I accept my flaws and learn from my failures. I accept that success is a tip of an iceberg with its 90% consisting of try-outs, failures, improvements, and struggles well hidden from another human sight. On the other hand, if you do not want to fail the only assurance in avoiding failure is doing absolutely nothing.

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