How to Survive Failure

How to Survive Failure

How do you feel about failure? When I ask what emotion is associated with failure, too often in our society the answer is shame.  Failure is inevitable–so what if we uncoupled it from such a negative, unproductive emotion?  What if we embraced our failures as opportunities to learn and improve?

How to Survive Failure Step 1:  Accept It

The first step toward embracing failure is acknowledging that it can and does happen. But while failure is inevitable it is also temporary.  People don’t fail, things fail–projects, presentations, meetings.  By exploring your relationship with failure you can begin to work more creatively and truly spark innovation.  The more you consider failure part of life the more free you will be to take more innovative risks in the future.

How to Survive Failure Step 2:  Neutralize It

The next step to survive failure is to decouple failure from emotion. James Clear calls this treating failure like a scientist.  When a scientist runs an experiment he or she simply gets data points.  These data points are infused with judgement–they simply contribute to learning.  If you think of your endeavor as your lab where sometimes the unexpected happens and provides you with new data you can begin to learn from failure. A nice side bonus is that you will also become more tolerant of risk in general.  My former boss had a sign in her office saying, “only mediocre people are always at their best.”  No one likes to fail, but If we focus on learning then failure can be a helpful, positive experience.  If we don’t welcome failure, we are welcoming mediocrity.  Welcomed failure brings learning, improvement and innovation.  Shamed failure just brings shame.

How to Survive Failure Step 3:  Practice It

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.”  Like anything else, the more you fail the more you will learn that you can fail and survive–even thrive.  So how do you practice failure? By taking small risks or trying something new.  By exposing yourself to small risks you can experience small failures from time to time in a safe, controlled way.

How to Survive Failure Step 4:  Learn From It

Think about the decisions you make in your daily life.  They aren’t all perfect, are they?   When you experience failure poke at what went wrong.  Don’t blame, but see how things can be improved for next time. Focus on the learning as opposed to the failure.  One way to do this is by conducting an after action review.

How to Survive Failure Step 5:  Know That You are In Good Company

Thomas Edison’s success had to do with his relationship to failure.  He once said “I know several thousand things that won’t work.”  Even today if you walk down the sidewalks in major cities in the are walking on cement made by Edison.  He developed a successful process to make cement sidewalks—but at the time he was trying to develop a process to remove iron ore from rocks!  By keeping an open mind about failure Edison was able to turn his failures into successes.  No wonder he is also credited as saying, “I failed my way to success.”

How have you used failure as a way to learn and grow? I’d love to hear about it.  You can contact me directly or follow the instructions below to leave a comment.

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