Three weeks before one of my regular weekend workshops, my boss asked me, “Samantha, how many people do you believe we can put in this course?” I wanted 45 people in the course, but at the time, we weren’t close to 45, so 45 wasn’t looking terribly likely. A little voice inside my head cried out: “Under NO circumstances should you tell her 45! What if you can’t succeed at that? Your coworkers will stop believing in your leadership. The other executives will see you as a fraud. You’ll be put on some sort of secret probation. Better to say 35 people. Yeah, yeah.”
That, my friends, is the voice of the fear of failure. I don’t know about you, but failure is one of the things I fear the most. Whether it’s leaning in for a kiss at the end of a date and my date turning it into a hug (denied!), or putting together a business proposal that the owner of my company rejects, failure feels terrible.
And yet, we can’t really have the big things we want without risking failure. So I propose we learn how to handle failure well, so that we can stay on the path of going for and getting our big dreams.
It’s like learning how to do a handstand. In yoga class, I have noticed that my teachers will absolutely not let participants try a handstand before they have learned how to gracefully fall out of a handstand. So why don’t we learn how to gracefully fail? Wouldn’t we all feel a heck of a lot better risking failure if we knew it wouldn’t result in breaking a hip or a back?
Here are some ways to fail with grace:
1. Give yourself a mourning period.
Failing at anything you really care about is going to hurt. So don’t deny yourself those feelings. They are fine and part of being human. The more you try to avoid the feelings by keeping yourself busy, or eating, or watching TV, the more they will actually own you. You can’t release them if you don’t fully feel and experience them. It’s okay. The feelings will eventually pass, so let them flow through you. Tip: if your negative feelings last more than a few hours, that’s a sign you’re NOT fully feeling them and you’re still getting something out of your pity party. Continue on to steps #2-5.
2. Have a go-to song, mantra, or story that re-contextualizes your failure.
For me, there is nothing like Garth Brooks’s “The Dance” to get me centered. For those of you who did not grow up in central Illinois, Garth refrains “I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.” After all, that’s what I want in my life–to dance. This song reminds me of that.
3. Share your failure.
We usually hide our failures from others because we are ashamed of them. The problem with shame is that the more we hide something, the more we believe that that thing is actually something to be ashamed of. So the best antidote to shame is actually to TELL EVERYONE. If you owe apologies, give the apologies. If you are afraid of looking bad, look bad. See what happens. Usually, you will find that what you did is either easily forgivable or not anything to be ashamed of. And that will free you up.
4. Figure out the lesson you learned from the failure.
You already paid the price for the lesson, so you may as well reap the reward. I have found that pretty much the only way I can get a lesson into this dense head of mine is by failing at something, repeatedly. So each time I fail, it’s a good sign that maybe, just maybe, I will learn the golden lesson that I need to be a success next time. Makes you almost glad to fail from time to time.
5. Give yourself a deadline for getting “back on the horse.”
It’s so easy to go to a place of “once bitten, twice shy.” But that would be the wrong lesson. Sure, learn how to do things better and smarter next time. Just be sure to get back to pursuing your goals and not keep playing the film reel of “that was so horrible” over and over in your head.
Work with these five steps to design a “failure routine” that works for you. Like any safety net, I promise it will make the fall less scary. Still may be painful, but it’ll be easier to brush yourself off and keep on going for the things that you really want in your life.
So what happened with forecasting attendance for the weekend workshop? I decided to throw my hat into the ring for the full 45 participants. I had the courage to go for this because I had my graceful failure routine in my back pocket. Luckily, I didn’t need it; we had 48 attendees, in the end, and the course was a success. I’d like to think that my confidence, borne partially out of being willing to gracefully fail, actually helped me succeed.
Don’t confuse betting against yourself with being willing to gracefully fail. You’re still on the hook for going for your dreams 100%, but since you won’t always succeed, what failure routine will you decide for yourself?
A blog by Dr. Samantha Sutton, VP of Courses and Seminars and Senior Coach at the Handel Group
Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/spacmonster/
Blog reprinted from The Daily Love.