Failure and fear are ominous bedfellows. They feed each other and us too in ways that can be crushing.
If we want to succeed, we need to welcome failure. It’s our greatest teacher.
If it weren’t, we wouldn’t remember our failures more keenly than our successes.
Our failures have a habit of sticking, and because they do, they become the essential reference point that we need to grasp.
Failures in our careers come in all shapes and sizes:
- the blown interview
- unmet performance goals
- a failed project, product, or software application
- an ineffective presentation or rejected proposal
- job loss or business failure
Faced with any of these, you might choose to:
- give up, become inconsolably disgruntled or retaliatory
- blame others, the company, or some policy
- berate yourself, lose all confidence, or backslide
But, if you’re smart, you’ll stop and say, “I need to figure out what I need to do to get better, so I can avoid failures like this in the future.”
No matter how great they are, professional athletes continuously experience failure. Every contest does not end up in a win and they know it.
Pro baseball players fail at bat more than they succeed. Pro golfers can compete for years and never win a tournament. (They may get a paycheck, but their ultimate measure of success is wins.)
As a result, athletes use every failure to learn something about themselves, ways to improve their skills, and insights to sharpen their game sense.
Lolo Jones is an American track and field athlete. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, she was favored to win the 100 meter hurdles, but she tripped on the second to last hurdle, finishing seventh. It was a crushing failure for a competitor who had overcome a life of poverty through hard work and determination to reach such a pinnacle moment.
Lolo is competing in the 2012 Olympics in London where she will pursue gold in the same race. After four years learning from her 2008 failure, she sees that by fighting her way back to the Olympics, she has already won. She said on NBC’s Today Show (8/7/12), “For me, it will be like facing my fears.” Facing them means she has already overcome that old failure.
Kerri Strug, retired American gymnast and member of the Magnificent Seven gold medal team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, is famous for her performance on the vault to win the all-around, despite having severely injured her ankle. Early on, as a gymnast, she was considered mentally and emotionally frail in her performances during times of competitive stress. So with everything on the line in 1996, Kerri demonstrated what she has now come to realize: “It’s your failures that catapult you forward” (from a 2012 interview on NBC).
Exploit your failures
It’s time to take hold of your failures and exploit them for your own success. Face them. Embrace them. That’s how you will free yourself from the hold they may have on you and turn them into an asset.
Make those failures clear by writing them down. State what you see as the failure and make sure you’ve got it right. Then start listing what the failure has taught you about:
- your skills and knowledge
- your attitude, point of view, understanding of the situation
- your commitment, standards, work ethic, courage
- confidence, relationships, honesty
Then write an action plan for yourself. What are you going to do to be better prepared to minimize the chances of failure next time. Find someone you trust to help you. Then get on with it. The only one who can overcome failure is you. So please make failure your friend!
Photo from nataliebehring.com via Flicker