Whenever we have an experience we deem to be a failure, it can hurt our identity in a major way. While we may intellectually know that experiencing failure is a part of life, we still experience negative emotions when things don’t go as planned or work out as we expected.
The truth is failure is just a perception. It is our perspective on what happened or what should have happened that dictates what we consider a failure or success.
If we don’t shift our perception around what we deem to be a failure, it can:
- Cause us to doubt ourselves.
- Prevent us from taking chances or risks.
- Affect our mental and emotional states in a negative way.
- Reduce our self-confidence and self-esteem.
- Cause us to miss new opportunities.
The good news is we can make each failure a valuable learning opportunity.
I recently had a conversation with the manager of a training team of a large global organisation after he had to make a difficult decision to reduce the size of his team by two. While it was not surprising that such a decision needed to be made because of how the organisation was performing, it was still a decision that had caused him a lot of angst and stress.
During our conversation, he revealed that he felt like he had failed. As he had been trying for a couple of years to get funding from other regions within the organisation to support training, that had not eventuated. As a result, he had been scrambling to do all he could to protect his team, but was unable to because he was forced to make a difficult decision.
Instead of acknowledging all the successes he had made over the years, he chose to focus on the immediate situation he found himself in, which he associated as a personal failure. That resulted in generating high levels of stress, not just for himself, but also for the rest of the members of his team, plus it affected his motivation levels and his perception of what could be possible for his team in the future.
Anything we deem to be a failure is never easy. However, we do have the choice to look at each event we deem to be a failure and extract valuable lessons from it. Here are five ways we can easily make our next failure a valuable learning opportunity so that we can respond better next time we’re in a similar situation.
- Failure is feedback that improvement is needed. Sometimes failure simply means we weren’t as prepared as we could have been. Maybe we have to develop more skills, acquire new knowledge or learn things that will assist us in achieving the outcomes we want. Failure often indicates that things were not aligned, hence further improvement is required.
- Failure is an indication that you are taking action. When we are not taking action, we will not receive any feedback. It is only when we start moving in the direction of where we want to go that we’ll know whether we’re on course or we’re off course. If we want a new result, we must be willing to take new actions.
- Failure is a sign it is time to move on. Sometimes we are so invested or so close to something that we have “blinkers” on and cannot see things from different perspectives. As the saying goes, “You cannot see the picture if you’re in the frame.” Failure can be a sign that we’re on the wrong track and it is time to get off that track so that we can refocus on what is the right course of action for us.
- Failure can open up new ways of doing things. Some of the world’s greatest achievements have happened as a result of an initial failure, which meant that a new way had to be found. For example, Thomas Edison reportedly failed thousands of times in his attempt to create an incandescent light but each time he failed, his attitude was he had found another way how “not’ to create an incandescent light. By being willing to adjust our actions after every failure, we will eventually get to where we want to be.
- Failure can strengthen your reflection skills. While it can be tempting to “get back on the saddle” after a failed experience, a better approach is to use a failure as an opportunity to stop and review what happened, what actions did or did not work, and what could be done differently next time. Reflection is an extremely valuable skill to have because it is our opportunity to be in a quiet reflective state and receive new insights into how we can become better at what we do.
Being able to use our failures to get closer to where we want to be is a powerful way to use more and more of our potential. If we start adopting the mindset that our failures in life are just our perceptions, then we can use our failures to shape the future we want to create.
Question: What is another way we can make a failure a valuable learning opportunity?
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