Fail fast, fail forward, get good at failing, failing is the secret to success. These are just a small smattering of the mini-mantras about failing that I see flash across my computer screen too many times a day. And, while they might have the best of intentions, I believe they miss the point. Failure has no value. It is the things we do that are associated with the failure that we should be writing about, focusing on, and learning to develop.
Despite so much writing to the contrary, failure has nothing to teach us. Failure, in and of itself, is simply a painful experience that highlights our, well, failures, insecurities, insufficiencies, our lack of planning, our listening to poor advice, poor choices, and directional shortcomings. It’s simply the stuff we did not get right.
Failure is not a skill, it is an event. Often times it can be outside of our actual control. And, because of this, I think it’s important to highlight a few of those things that we can control, things often associated with failure, that actually do have value.
- Getting up after you’ve been knocked down has value.
Failure hurts. If it doesn’t, then you don’t care and shouldn’t be doing whatever it is you are doing because you lack the connection to it and will not be responsible with it. And, because it hurts, getting up and trying again is hard work. It’s also the kind of work that has immense value. Get damn good at getting back up, at shaking it off and charging forward, at inspiring others through their own sense of loss, at swallowing your pride, being honest and having the humility to acknowledge your part and make a change.
- Separating idea from ego has immense value.
Seeing failure before it happens and changing course often takes a level of emotional strength that, if it took physical form, would be some combination of Hercules and the Incredible Hulk. Separating idea from ego allows people to make a change, shift tactics or strategies, killing our favorite ideas, and alter the plans we fell in love with before they fall completely on their face. Doing this requires the humility, confidence, and strength in character built in hard-earned experience.
- Understanding the psychological pain of failure has value. If it directs our actions.
Perhaps we would be less fascinated with failure if we were honest about the things that often follow big failures. Depression, alcoholism, anxiety disorders, abuse, rage, and even suicide. Sorry to show the dirt under the rug, but acting like it does not exist, that failure doesn’t challenge our own confidence, self worth, and sense of value, is not only irresponsible, it borders on insanity. If we are honest about the potential psychological effects, then we can have compassion for ourselves and others, we can avoid it if possible, we can support people when it does happen, and we can provide the tools, structure, and strength to help people get back up on the other side.
There are more vary valuable skills and strengths we can build that are directly and indirectly associated with failure. Pushing our limits enough to find the limit, having the courage to push all in when we need, stepping out to take a chance, doing the things that no one thinks is possible, and being the trend-setter just to name a few. But none of these find value from failure itself. The value is ALWAYS found in choosing to do something before or after it happens.
Maybe this whole focus on failure thing is just a great way to get viewership, the whole if it bleeds it leads idea, but it’s not something I want to support. I don’t think anyone should look forward to failing any more than they would to a car wreck, the flu, or falling off a cliff. Our words matter, our focus is important, and what we strive to develop in ourselves should have value.
So please, when you read about failure, know the value you are building does not come from the failure itself, but in what you choose to do around it.