I’m writing this with a familiar knot in my stomach, pain behind my eyes and fatigue from a fitful sleep. I know this feeling, it’s the feeling of a fresh failure. Perhaps you relate?
I’m no stranger to failure. I’ve been through divorce, business disruption and bad reviews, but before you think I’m a loser, read on, there just might be something of value here.
A quick update, this is not a sad missive. I survived my divorce, found love again, I am remarried to an amazing woman, and have a beautiful blended family. I survived my business disruption, climbed out of debt and built a successful career following my passion as an international speaker and coach. Which brings us to a bad review, the cause of today’s angst, and my deciding to share with you, what started out as a personal journal entry, with the hope that it brightens this or some future day.
We are told that, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”, and with hell-on-earth this has been my experience. If we didn’t care about the goal or outcome, we also wouldn’t care if we didn’t hit the mark. The more you care, the more it hurts, but the conclusion should not to give up caring, although that can seem to be an attractive option, immediately after you discover something in your life didn’t work.
My recent brush with failure came from the positive intention to deliver a provocative speech to inspire change. It was an important client, I prepared meticulously, but on the day, something knocked me off my game, and my intent backfired, and I received mixed reviews and some critical feedback.
Being an Executive Coach and having been the deliverer of 360 reviews and maladaptive psychometric reviews, I am usually the one giving the feedback, but this time I received the feedback from a trusted colleague whose positive view of my work I care very much about. There it is again; the discomfort of failure is magnified by the magnitude of care.
The Gift of Failure
Successful people care about their business or careers, good leaders care about their people and spouses care about their marriages and their children. Caring is key to success and that’s the first key for handling failure, recognizing that it hurts because you care, and now it is time to care about yourself.
The second part of the gift is the feedback that failure provides. We construct an identity based on the experiences we have and the narratives we tell our self, but this identity always has blind spots. A failure puts a great big mirror in our face and shows us what we have not seen before. This accounts for the initial shock. If you have ever left a lunch or dinner where you have been happily chatting with clients or colleagues, then went to the bathroom and found some salad between your teeth, you felt the embarrassment of a blindspot. Wouldn’t you have rather known as soon as it happened? Shouldn’t somebody have told you?
Failure is humbling because it lets you know that you are not perfect, but if you accept the feedback, you can adjust your perspective and behaviors, and advance.
Accept, Adjust & Advance
Having successfully navigated financial & family failures, I know this strategy works. I am applying it right now, as I write this journal entry.
I accept I’m not perfect. You would think, in my 50’s, that I knew that already, but it’s the nature of our self-construct that we form a bias that skews us towards wanting to be right all the time. However, here’s a paradox, we tend to hate perfect people, they are ‘really’ annoying! There’s even a German word we use in English, Schadenfreude – the delight in someone else’s misfortune. We experience intense schadenfreude when someone who appears perfect slips up. So, not being perfect makes you perfectly human.
I have found being transparent about my failures and imperfections, and taking ownership of them, has made me more relatable, especially when I’m coaching younger people.
Do you accept you are not perfect?
Good, now it’s time to adjust. Take the feedback and adjust your behaviors. I know what mistake I made in my recent speech and I won’t make it again. I am grateful for the feedback, however uncomfortable it was to receive because it showed me exactly where instead of not connecting with some of my audience, I could take this speech and make twice as impactful without breaking rapport.
I’m grateful, now, for the experience of my divorce. I had chosen the wrong partner, and however hard we worked at it, we were not able to be happy. I adjusted how I looked at relationships, and found a partner who was a much better fit. I’m grateful for the experience of going through a business disruption, because I adjusted my career direction, and now do work I love. What adjustments do you need to make?
Advance. If you are reading this now, there’s only one way to go, forward. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, said Nietzsche. Michael Jordan failed his way to success by missing 9000 shots and losing 300 games, doesn’t that put yours and my failures into perspective? What happens when we let go of the feeling of failure and accept the gift? We make the adjustments required and take the next step.
Whilst I would never wish adversity on anyone, I wouldn’t want you to miss out on the surprising gift of failure, because in reality:
THERE IS NO FAILURE – ONLY FEEDBACK FOR RESULTS!