How often have you tried something and failed miserably at it? I don’t mean it didn’t work out; I mean epic, miserable, failure.
It’s a funny thing, failure:
It builds character; just because it didn’t work doesn’t mean I give up.
It encourages perseverance; I will find a way to make this work.
It shows your fortitude; ‘I failed’ doesn’t make me a failure.
It sparks creativity; I wonder what would happen if I tried it this way.
It teaches success; I finally did it!
I read a really interesting article by Kathy Caprino about Sara Blakely –creator of Spanx, and the youngest self-made female billionaire in history– in Forbes yesterday. The article (find it here) was written in 2012, but is so pertinent to my post today.
In the article, Kathy Caprino lists the ten lessons she learned from speaking with Sara. The very first was a lesson Sara was taught at a young age. Her father would ask her everyday, “So, what did you fail at today?”
I know some parents reading this will think “How could you encourage your child to fail?!” If you happen to be one of those people, think about it this way: is it better to brush failure under the rug, as if it didn’t happen, or to embrace failure as an opportunity to teach that mistakes are part of the learning process and can be corrected? What a valuable life lesson Sara learned and at such a young age. It clearly carried her to success!
I was not raised in an environment that fostered this approach to failure. Failed attempts were met with “You are not quitting; do you know how much we spent on this for you?” Again, I know some of you will read this and think either I had terrible parents or I am blowing this out of proportion. I assure you, neither is the case. I would also add that my Dad follows my blog; read here if you’d like more on why that topic is applicable to my former statement.
Like many parents, mine were not rolling in dough. We lived a very meager lifestyle, and the few things my brother and I were interested in doing, they supported. But God help you if you thought you were going to do it half-assed, or quit three games into the baseball season, or stop taking lessons because “your teacher smelled weird.” (He totally did, by the way). The reason: money.
Though my brother and I were not taught to embrace failure as an opportunity to try again, or to try something else, we did learn that money was an important variable in whether or not you “gave up on it.” We were not of the generation who frivolously and flippantly hopped from one activity to the next on a whim.
In some ways, it is a good lesson in failure not being an option as it pertains to fiscal responsibility. In other ways, however, it showed us that failure was something you internalized and carried with you with the same enthusiasm as taking your snot-nosed brother on dates with you.
It took me until my late 30s to embrace failure as a learning mechanism, as a way to grow, and as an opportunity to face the fear of failure. Failure and fear often go hand in hand. We fail and then we are afraid someone saw it, will judge us harshly or wrongly for it, or worse, we won’t have the courage to try again.
What the Hell is the big deal with failing? It just means we made a choice and it wasn’t the best one. Does it mean we suck at life? No. Should we never try it again? No. Does a failure define us as a person? Well, that’s a trickier one to answer.
We can look at failure in relation to defining characteristics in two ways:
1. We fail after attempting something that didn’t work quite the way we had intended, but we hash out the problems, and try a different approach. The defining characteristics here are pragmatism, courage and creativity. How we handle a failure in this example shows positive character traits.
2. We fail because we didn’t even make the attempt. The defining characteristics here are fear, cowardice, and lack of belief in self. These characteristics don’t foster growth; instead, they lock us into a self-made protective cocoon where we can be “successful” through lack of trying. If I don’t try, I can’t fail. Wrong. If you don’t try, you’ve already failed. Isn’t that a bite in the ass…
Both of those statements show distinct character traits; which traits would you rather exhibit?
I confess that I have a fear of failure; I’m making a 180 degree change in career, from musician to max-potential maven, and that scares the bejeezus out of me. But, what scares me more is failing because I didn’t dare to do it.