In the past, failure was an abomination. I remember all the warnings we got about failing and the demand that we never do so. Growing up, we would be beaten or questioned when we fail. We were always told that if we fail in school or life, we could end up on the street like the street child or worse the local drunk. Some communities went as far as ridiculing people who failed and used them as examples in stories.
This attitude created a very intense personal drive to grow, stay afloat and rise into places of dominance but it also created a culture of hiding struggles at all costs. It created a generation who would rather show strength even when they are struggling and could barely stand than acknowledge something as going on. It made people despise asking for help and seeking counsel to handle the challenges of life.
Fast forward thirty years and the conversation changes…
Failure is still defined as the inability to do something or rise above a challenge. The change came in the value of failure. It all started with conversations about the value of failure, the lessons we can learn from failure and the strength it can give us. Imagine the response from those of us who were oriented to believe failure is bad…it was so confusing.
I must admit that I struggled with this change in definition. It seemed too out there to be true. How could failure be a blessing? How could it be helpful? How can I gain from it? I grappled with it for a long time, turning it over and over, until it made sense and I tried to deal with it.
It took a series of failures for me to understand its value.
The tipping point was failing in a series of businesses then in relationships. Every aspect in my neatly ordered life was affected by these failures. I could choose to remain stuck or walk through the pain. Who would help me? Who would hold me to account? Would I be able to find the strength to deal? I sought the help of a counsellor and shared the journey with my accountability partners.
This walk through some of the most trying times taught me to love failure.
Failure is the best classroom: school is a place we discover what we know and what we need to learn, and failure is just that. We can choose to complain about the things that didn’t work or identify them, understand the mitigating factors, find ways to deal with the challenges and catalogue the lessons so we don’t need to go back and others can learn from our lives.
Failure is a temperature gauge: You know the new thermal detectors we have at mall entrances? That is my image of failure. It is a warning system that indicates times of reflection, review, and recalibration. If temperature checks are a constant part of life, any rises are noticed quickly, and the right measures can be deployed in time to avoid total failure. It is important to watch the small failings.
Failure shows us where to grow: Think of the athlete who lost a race. They deal with the emotions, including crying then get back to the drawing board. They never give up, change training tactics, diet, and train diligently for the next race clearly focused on the areas of growth and strengthening the areas of strength.
Failure keeps us humble: The knowledge that I am not invincible keeps me humble and willing to keep learning all my days. My past failures have taught me valuable lessons and deal with ego and holds the simplicity and joy of life and the desire to change the world.
Failure changes our mindset: It will either break us or make us stronger and whichever way it goes, is our personal choice. When we view failure as bad we will avoid it like the plague but if we understand its value, we will accept the failings are tools and use it as such.
We must teach our generations accept failure as a key classroom in life.
We must help them learn the value of failure as an integral part of life. Let’s help them to expect to fail first and fast and learn from each failure. Understand why they failed, catalogue signs missed, and errors made, identify the lessons and learn them, practice, practise, practise. When you anticipate that things won’t always work, you are set to go further because failure loses its power to stall you permanently.
Failure is a great place of learning and can trigger great growth when handled right. Choose your attitude towards failure and either thrive or get stuck. Whatever option you choose will determine how far you will go.