When Failure Isn't Failure

Today my brother and I were talking about failure.  Given we had kids running around, it was neither a lengthy nor a deep discussion.  We touched on our views of failure and how our kids handle it.  I’d like to share my perspective here with all of you.

Once upon a time, I was a perfectionist.  I tried hard to do things “the right way” and rarely embarked upon things I wasn’t quite sure I could pull off.  This way of living made me super critical of others.  I was also super critical of myself.  I never wanted to make mistakes, let alone be SEEN as having made a mistake.  How embarrassing!!

About two to three years ago, I made an awful mistake at work.  My boss said it wasn’t that big of a deal, but I didn’t agree.  I beat myself up about it for a while.  I was beside myself.  I felt like a failure.  I felt I wasn’t good at my job and questioned whether I even deserved to even be in my position.

An interesting thing happened though.  I started to question these self-destructive thoughts.  Was I really going to label myself as a “failure” from this one mistake?  Why was I doing that?  Why not see it for what it was - a task-specific mistake?  Why did I allow mistakes to overshadow all of my successes?

As I contemplated these questions, I felt a shift occur.  I decided that the mistake was just that - a mistake.  I vowed to no longer put myself down because of any given failure, and instead consider it in light of all my successes.

I honestly can’t say what ultimately contributed to my shift in perspective - why I started to question my prior behavior.  I had been on my self-development journey for about four years at that point, so it’s likely that some of that exposure was coming to bear.

Since that shift, my thoughts on failure have developed even further.  I can now say that I embrace it.  Yes, embracing failure may sound strange.  Why would I embrace it?  Because it means I’m pushing myself outside my comfort zone.  It means I’m trying.  To me, failure is now defined as just not trying.

If you resonate with any of the above and seek to shift your perspective of failure as well, I offer two key factors that contributed to my changed definition of failure.

The first was Brené Brown’s interview with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday regarding her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.  During that interview, she referenced a speech that Teddy Roosevelt gave in 1910.  I don’t recall if she shared the entire quote below, but I am sharing it here today because it's beautiful and completely relevant.  In his 1910 speech, Roosevelt said:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.
— Teddy Roosevelt

That quote made such an impression upon me.  I realized when I heard it that I needed to get into the arena, contributing to the point that I had dust and sweat and blood on me.  I needed to take action instead of sitting on the sidelines pretending I’m a referee/judge.

The second contributing factor was an interview I had seen of Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx.  In it, she told the story of how her definition of failure was formed by her father at a very young age.  I found her story fascinating and it turned my view of failure on its head.  Since that interview, she’s actually put it in a video and posted on YouTube.)

I wouldn’t be doing this blog if I still believed that failure was something to be feared and avoided.  I have made mistake after mistake since starting this blog…and I wouldn’t change a thing.  This is something I want and my failures/mistakes are my teachers.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid of failing?  I’d love to hear!

Be open to what comes.

For the Love of Music

Saturday Summary