Failure is Not the F-Word!

Failure is Not the F-Word!

When I am setting goals for myself or with my clients, one of the first things I figure out is the appetite for failure. In its purest sense, failure is just data*.  You tried something and it didn’t work. You have now identified one way to not get the results you want.  It’s useful information and it doesn’t have to be personal, especially if you take risks that aren’t fatal if they don’t go well.

You had a lot of experience with failure as a baby. If you are now walking and talking, it is clear it didn’t stop you then. Over the years and as the stakes got higher, you may now believe that failure is a bad thing. Unfortunately, avoiding all failure keeps us from growing and undermines our strength.  How can you build resilience and trust in your own strength if you don’t have experience standing up and dusting yourself off?

We have a few options when it comes to dealing with our appetite for failure as we learn.

1. You can aim for the ideal target from the get go. With this approach your best bet is to have realistic expectations about how long it will take you to cross the finish line, because despite all of your hard work as you build toward your success, you will be failing until that day. By this I mean, when you take stock of your goals every day/week/month/quarter/year and ask yourself “Did I meet my goal?” your answer will be “No”.  This can be useful motivation to some people especially individuals that are task driven. But for teams it is usually stressful and discouraging. Here’s the biggest drawback- you can easily lose sight of all of the progress you have made to that point if your goal is still far in the distance.

If red isn’t your favorite color on your stoplight report, or if your team isn’t struggling with complacency so you need to light a fire under them to focus them with urgency,  I recommend a second approach that let’s you get comfortable with failure on a less intimidating scale.

2. Make that Ideal target your vision and set goals that are milestones along the way to that target. After all, it took years to learn to be wary of failure. Give yourself time to change your mind by breaking down your goal into milestones that are challenging but not morale busting. You will get better at dealing with the occasional failures. They will be punctuated with frequent successes to celebrate. With experience you will be able to take on more ambitious goals that may take longer to reach with less gratification along the way.

When a baby is learning to walk, they fall down the first thousand times, but progressively learn how to balance, then stand, and ultimately take a few steps long before they can walk across the room. Like them you can accept and expect failure will happen.  Look forward to it and be ready to learn. It proves you are taking risks and working toward your goals. Before you know it, you will be taking a victory lap.