As leaders we have heard countless motivational quotes about failure. Some of the ones I have heard are “fail forward, we learn from failure not our success, accept that failure is a part of life, people who don’t fail, never tried.” The list goes on and on. I am sure you can add a few that I have missed. As I think of this list I am wallowing in my own recent failure.
This summer I was invited to speak to a small group of fellows and as I shared my leadership journey one of the participants asked with some hesitation… “Have you ever failed at anything?”
I remember standing there and thinking I prepared for all of their questions except that one. After scanning my brain for what felt like forever I came up with a technical response or as they say in the realm of ontological coaching I gave him a head-based response for a heart-based question.
As I reflected afterwards, the only thing I remember was how neat I wanted that response to be. Clean almost. Failure couldn’t be messy. I wanted him to see that failure was something “I got.” Of course, I failed but let me tell you how I win. Let’s talk about the win that came out of that failure. In my mind, I told myself SHIFT TO WHAT YOU DID RIGHT – afterall who wants to sit in that failure story too long? So, I wrapped my response in a nice, neat little bow and delivered what I assume was an ever so eloquent answer to his question.
But the real response was yeah, “I fail, everyday.” In small ways, sometimes big ways. It varies and as a society we have shamed the heck out of failure. Many of us live in such a performance based realm that calls on us to be:
- On all the time
- Expert and Knowledgeable
The extraneous factors coupled with our own inner critic can create an enormous amount of self-imposed pressure to perform, to win, to succeed. It can be suffocating. We buy into the bs that we cannot fail. And if we do “pick yourself up quickly and dust yourself off. Move on. Step over it. You have to put your best foot forward. Never let them see you sweat.” Ha! I knew there were a few more quotes in there somewhere.
Failure can be complicated, righteous perhaps riddled with anger, shame, rejection and disappointment. And as uncomfortable as that may be if you are undergoing a personal failure I am requesting that you honor your purging process and the experience of your failure responsibly. Talk about your failure. Make it normal. What’s the worst that happen?
You also don’t have to make your anger, sadness, disappointment look great for others or ban their existence from your being. Release the burden to perform or withhold. We are all entitled to our ugly cry and whatever comes with that. Be with it. I encourage you not to rush your process AND you also don’t get to STAY. I don’t get to stay here. Too much awaits on the other side.