When We Fail

Sometimes we fail.

How to fail wellWe do.

The thing we try to do doesn’t work.

The job we thought we’d love is really awful.

The marriage we so wanted to work out or fix ends.

Sometimes we fail.

 

The question is not whether or not it’s going to happen.

It’s going to happen, that is if you make any attempt to grow, reach, stretch, be more – failure will happen.

The question is not if, but what you will do with it.

The motivational crowd will tell you to get right back on that horse.

I’m going to ask you to check your course.

“But wait,” they say: “You can’t get mired in self-doubt.”

I say this is a reaction.

I say our fear of getting stuck in self-doubt after a failure or a less than stellar outcome is a dodge, a deflection, an extremely sophisticated way to get out of feeling the failure.

Because that’s what I think we should do.

I think we should feel it.

I think we should sit with the failure and let it be with us, cry if we need to, destroy a pillow if that’s better, but be with that feeling of failure.

Why? Why on earth would I want you to do that? Am I just a sadist?

No. I’m really not.

That feeling part, the part we dodge and weave to avoid, the part we look for quick fixes, buffers, distractions for? That’s our most delicate and informative equipment. That’s our navigational hardware. That’s how we really stay on course. If we avoid it all of the time and just get back to forging ahead we’ll be going in circles or headed to a destination we don’t really want.

So what do we need to do? We need to feel the failure.

Does that mean we need to change course? No, maybe, I don’t know for you. Only YOU know for you and the best way to access that knowing is to be honest and the way to start being honest is to feel how you feel, get through the peak of that and then have the conversation with yourself, check in with your internal navigation, after you’ve given it a moment to recalibrate.

what will you let failure teach youYou may then decide to get back on that horse and just try again. You may try again with a variation. You may decide it’s time for a new horse. The point isn’t always whether or not you persist in what you were doing, but in what you learn and what you allow with the failure. The point isn’t always getting up and trying again, but in trying better, trying different, maybe even trying new.

Failure will happen.

If you risk anything worth risking, if you step beyond where you are at all in hopes of reaching something more, failure will happen.

What will you make from it? What will it teach you? Who will you become after that?

 

Are You Denying What You Really Know?

Over the weekend I was reading a short article by Tova Mirvis. She describes how she left both her faith and her marriage over a very short period of time. When I started reading, I wasn’t really committed to the piece. I was just passing the time. And then she said something that REALLY caught my attention. The author asked a question that I thought was a lightening bolt of a question, so I started to pay a little more attention. Are you ready for it? It’s a good one. She asked: “For how long would I try to deny what I really knew?”

Boom.

If that doesn’t go boom for you, you are very lucky, extremely attuned to yourself, or you’ve not really taken a good hard look at what’s going on inside. Let’s unpack this question a little bit. For Mirvis, the question came after the seeds of religious doubt had been sown repeatedly and she cut down the resulting seedlings in order to maintain a harmonious marriage, and to ensure her commitment to her faith. She continuously found the edges of her beliefs, questioning the reasons for traditions, for practices, and for the systems that were in place in her community, in her faith tradition, and eventually also in her marriage. As she noticed these edges more and more often, it became really difficult to deny what she already knew, that she was an outsider, that she neither believed the same things nor (and perhaps more importantly) did she HOPE to believe them. She didn’t see the benefit of working towards those beliefs or living inside of them without sharing them in her heart. She began to feel that she was living a lie. “For how long would I try to deny what I really knew?”

Slide1When we look back at some of the biggest changes in our lives, we can almost always identify moments of knowing that we had in advance. In a breakup we can look back at the times we knew it wasn’t going to work out or when we became suspicious that things weren’t as they seemed. In a job situation, we can (from the other side) see the ways that a job didn’t suit us or bring out our best; we can identify the moments we wished we’d written a resignation letter. We get these little signals, and most of us dismiss them as anomalies, blips on the radar, one time things. And there are good reasons for that. It is far harder to assume that each of these moments is a little cry from our most essential selves, telling us things are not lining up correctly. Mirvis talks about the struggle to get right with her doubt: “I continued to observe the rules of Orthodoxy, hoping all this activity might eventually take the shape of actual belief. I felt alone in my marriage but warned myself away from the hard places.” This is what we do right? We just keep it up, hoping that the blip was just that and that persevering will allow us to get to something more meaningful.

And hey, listen, don’t misunderstand and think I’m not about a little perseverance, but continuing on a path that contradicts what we really know feels less like perseverance and more like continuing on a path to avoid the pitfalls of the other paths.¬†Making big change creates, well, big change. We cannot renovate one corner of our lives without changing the rest of the room. Every action has a reaction and all of that jazz.

A big part of why most of us avoid major life renovations is the people part. As we make major changes, we often find that it is harder to relate to/be with the people who’ve become important to us or who make us feel safe in the world. Mirvis experienced this fully as she left both her marriage AND her faith community. She lost friends, lost lots of them. She traded feeling out of synch with her real self for feeling terribly lonely.

Slide2But that’s not the end of the story. Over time Mirvis’ perception of her loneliness changed: “I came to understand that the people who no longer spoke to me were part of one small world; with time, there be other worlds I would discover myself.” When we change things, when we renovate our lives, we sometimes leave people behind or make them so uncomfortable they choose to stay behind. And maybe, just maybe, that’s okay. Maybe in addition to really knowing that we need to change things, we could try really knowing that we’re still okay, that being our real selves, that listening to that tiny voice inside is not just acceptable but preferable and will take us someplace new, where there will be new people and new experiences, and new relationships to start, and grow, and nurture. Maybe the secret of life isn’t in persevering and making it work, but in questioning and listening and making it yours.

What are you denying that you REALLY know? What would it be like to admit that you know it? Does it feel like freedom (even if it’s a little scary)?

Freedom From Failure

A big part of my job as a life coach is to help people who feel “stuck.” Now stuck can mean a lot of different things. It can mean: “I don’t know what to do next.” It can mean: “I know what to do, but don’t want to do it.” It can mean: “I don’t believe I can do it.” It can mean many, many different things to different people. One of the things it seems to mean pretty regularly is: “I’m afraid if I do the thing (whatever the thing is), I’m going to fail.”

Well boy howdy do I know what that’s all about. If I’m really honest I’m afraid I’m going to fail every single day. Wow. I never really think about it that way and just saying that out loud felt pretty awful, but it’s true. Starting a business is no small thing, and you have to do a lot of new stuff that makes you uncomfortable, and you have to do it even when you think you’re going to fail. The same is true lots of places, though, isn’t it? It’s not just all of us loony self-employed people who face this.

Failure is part of doing something bigger than what you're doing now.Anybody who wants something big, who wants to get to the next level in their own personal and/or professional development is going to have moments where they think they could fail. I experience it as a musician. We try harder songs; we use more complex arrangements. We choose styles we’ve not worked with before. We don’t do that ALL of the time. We have a base of stuff that we do with confidence, and then a couple that are heart pounders until we’ve played them enough that they become part of the base and we choose a new really hard song. THIS is how we grow.

This is how we grow unless we quit before we get anywhere. See growing, changing, being more, feeling better, feeling different, expanding, evolving will ALL lead to fear and discomfort. They will. As evolved as we may be technologically, our primitive brains are still pretty simple and clear about what they’re interested in: survival. How do we survive? Well, we stick with what’s working. Never mind if it is not fulfilling; that is not the question your brain is interested in. For your primitive brain, only one question matters: has it kept us alive? Yes? Great – that works. Don’t change because THAT might kill us. Done.

So when we move to change, to grow, to experiment, our brain unleashes every story it can think of to keep us from moving down that road. Some of these are subtle: “But you’re really great at what you’re doing right now.” Some of them are not: “If you do that you could lose EVERYTHING and then we’ll be homeless, and then we’ll die.” We are so afraid to fail that we quit before there’s even the slightest possibility of failing. And as a result, we stay the same. We don’t learn new skills. We don’t learn to conquer (okay, manage but conquer sounds so glorious) our fears. We don’t learn how to be even better than we are.

You get to decide what failure is.The thing about failure is that we can be free from it without quitting. Brooke Castillo recently reminded me (and whoever else was watching) that we each get to define what failing means. You cannot fail anywhere but in your own mind, because you are the one who decides when you have failed. You are the one who decides that what you have done isn’t enough or has no value or isn’t just the rocky beginning to something new and amazing. You get to decide what failing looks like and THEN you get to decide what to do when that happens. Failing is both inevitable and totally optional.¬†You have total control over failure. How’s that for some freedom?

You may decide that failure doesn’t exist at all. You may decide that failing at new things is the best way to figure out how to do them. You may decide that building up some grit by failing a few times will help you get through the work to follow. You may decide that failing is a thing, that you will do it and that when you will do, it will be your job to figure out what did and didn’t work and to see if there’s something you can do different, better, if there’s a thought you can take away from it that will change how you interact with the world. You are totally free from failure, because each failure is our own. We define it. We react to it or embrace it. We recover or retreat. We are free.

What would you do today if you weren’t afraid to fail?