It’s a phrase we use as a security blanket when we are fearful of trying something new. ‘Why set yourself up for failure’? And indeed, why would you intentionally do something you haven’t done before, haven’t got the skills for, or where the odds are stacked against you achieving? This phrase exists to protect us from humiliation, catastrophe, and danger. It justifies our inaction and reticence. It maintains the status quo and keeps us safe.
And therein lies the problem.
Keeping safe means staying the same. It stifles progression and growth. If you only ever do things you already have the skills for, that you are certain you can do – you can’t learn and develop. The old adage ‘you learn from your mistakes’ is true – but the mistakes you make shouldn’t just be accidental – they should be intentional! Failure provides our biggest learning opportunities and being able to accept and embrace it means we are free to set ourselves huge and ambitious goals.
So this week on the blog I would urge you to think differently about failure and about that phrase in particular. When a challenge arises and it pops into your mind – change it into a positive.
Here’s how you should reframe failure:
Failure is growth
Intentionally setting yourself up for failure actually means setting yourself up for growth. Failure isn’t a fixed state, it represents fluidity and progression. You can fail, learn, grow, fail again, grow some more, and then succeed and move forward. Failure is a positive step on the path to achieving your larger goals. Check out Carol Dweck’s research on the “growth mindset” – she demonstrates that being able to see set-backs and failures as opportunities for growth – is what distinguishes successful from unsuccessful people. Opening your mind to the fact that failure leads to improvement, greater knowledge and ultimately success, means you can reduce the power that the ‘fear’ of failure has over you. You can release yourself from the shackles of passive inaction and grow!
Failure is feedback
When you don’t get the result you want first time, what you get instead is valuable information you need about what worked, what didn’t, and what you can do differently next time. Think of Thomas Edison’s 1000 attempts to make the perfect prototype light-bulb. On being asked about his myriad ‘failures’, Edison replied “I didn’t fail 1,000 times, the light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” Embrace failure by thinking of set-backs as positive learning steps moving you forward towards your ultimate goal.
Failure is resilience
Challenges and set-backs are an integral part of life. If you never experienced failure, you wouldn’t learn how to cope with hardship and overcome adversity. The more you fail, the more practised you will become at negotiating barriers and overcoming set-backs. It’s no coincidence that many super successful people were once bullied at school! Every failure you experience and every hardship you overcome, makes you stronger and better able to cope with whatever life throws at you.
Failure is opportunity
It sounds counterintuitive – but it’s true. Failure brings opportunity because failing means action and intention! For example, perhaps you apply for a job but fail to get it – but are then offered the opportunity to apply for a different position because someone influential has now become aware of your ambition and skills. Not taking action and confronting the possibility of failure will prevent you from coming across these extra opportunities. Greater opportunity is only available to those who are prepared to take action and fail.
Failure is humility
It’s human nature to root for an underdog, and people identify with fallibility. It makes you more human and appreciative of success when you do achieve it. Humility is an attractive trait. If you embrace failure therefore, you will connect better with your fellow humans and ultimately be more empathetic, which is a great life (and work) skill to have.
So, once you learn to reframe failure positively, it no longer need hold any fear for you. The world is your oyster. Set yourself up for failure daily – and you’ll move closer to achieving your goals. If you’d like to hear about my own personal journey of failing forward, then tune into this week’s podcast episode #47. Listen directly here or on Apple podcasts here. You can also come and discuss your thoughts about failure in the Having it all FB group, or contact me firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about my Having it all coaching programme.