Failure: The other “F” word

by | Jul 14, 2011

Failure, the other "F" Word

Failure, the other "F" Word

Failure. I’m not much of a fan. And, I defy anyone to put up a hand and volunteer if asked, “Okay, so who wants to fail today?”

The fact is though, unless we live in a bubble and do nothing, we are going to fail at something. Failure is part of living and, often, the very thing that makes success so exhilarating, if only by contrast.

So if you can agree with that, the next question might be, “When we fail, what can we do about it? Well, when it happens, I think we have two choices. We can make it a glorious failure or a pointless one.

Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture, talked about glorious failure. As a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh PA, he regularly put out challenges to his students and then gave an award to the team of students that failed to meet their stated objectives. He gave the award in acknowledgement of their dedication to new ideas; their willingness to take risk and; the effort they made toward achieving something that no one else had dared to try.

Glorious failure is failure that can be used as a springboard to something else and represents a piece of a larger puzzle used for learning, growth and exploration.

But, failure becomes pointless when we don’t pay attention to the lesson it teaches. It’s natural to want to put immediate distance between ourselves and our failures. Failure is, after all, a bit of a hot potato. Even so, much can be lost by being hasty and the possibility of making the same mistake more than once becomes greater if we choose to bypass any kind of examination or reflection.

I believe successful people do two things when it comes to taking risks.

First, they focus on success. That means they will do whatever they can to anticipate potential pitfalls that could get in the way of achieving their goal and work on mitigating these obstacles so that the way to the goal becomes less onerous.

Second, in the event of failure, they focus on learning. That means they will examine the outcome and circumstances with a view to squeezing as much juice out of the situation as possible. To me, it goes something like this:

* Determine what worked and keep it for use at another time.

* Acknowledge what didn’t work and decide what might be done differently next time.

* Take corrective action as required.

* Remember the lesson and move on.

In the end, I think it comes down to this. Failure happens. It’s what we do with it that makes the difference between growth and stagnation; happiness and despair. As a human being, I’m not always going to handle failure well, but I like the idea of going for the glory.

How about you?

Gwyn Teatro

Gwyn Teatro Subscriber
Gwyn Teatro is the author of internationally acclaimed leadership blog " You're not the boss of me" . She is a Certified Professional Coach with a Masters of Science degree in Management. With career experience spanning financial services and HR, Gwyn has coached, senior business leaders and groups on leadership, organizational effectiveness and strategic business planning. Although now technically retired, she continues to have a keen interest in leadership development and helping leaders (or those who aspire to be), find their success.
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