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Embracing the Power of Failure: A Journey Towards Growth and Success

Growing up in a family of high achievers and pursuing a career in medicine, it was inevitable I would see failure as an undesirable option.  It wasn't just discouraged; it was something to be feared. By and large I seemed to get away without having to face failure for a long time.  That is, until my mid-twenties when I faced rejection while applying for jobs after medical school. It was a harsh reality check. 


Over time, I've come to realize as I have coached and interacted with leaders from various backgrounds, that many others share this fear of failure. But what if we could change our perspective on failure? What if we could see it not as a foe to be avoided at all costs, but as a necessary stepping stone on the path to success?  What if we gave ourselves permission to fail?


I once came across a compelling story of a high-achieving woman whose father would ask her at the end of every school day, "So what did you fail at today?" He applauded her when she listed her ‘failures’.  His intention wasn't to criticize her but to encourage her to take risks and step out of her comfort zone. He understood that failure is an inevitable part of growth and learning.  He didn’t want her growing up afraid of failure.  The same is true for us.  If we are to succeed at anything and be whole human beings, we must learn to embrace failure as our friend and teacher.


“If you’re not failing, you’re probably not really moving forward.” John Maxwell.


Failure, however, is often seen as a shameful experience that we try to avoid at all costs. The pain of failure can be intense, leading us to doubt our abilities and question our identity. We are uncertain of what the future might look like in light of what’s happened.  Ashamed to admit to ourselves or to others that we’ve failed, we hide failure like a badge we’ve been given but have no intention of wearing in public.  But what if we could learn to embrace failure as a friend and teacher rather than a foe?


Research has shown that winning and losing have profound effects on our brains. Winning releases dopamine and testosterone, boosting confidence and future success. Conversely, repeated failure can lead to self-doubt and sabotage. This often happens because instead of learning from our failure, we allow it to define us and convince us that we are not good enough.  But it doesn't have to be this way.


So how can we move forward from failure?


1.     Firstly, don't dwell on it. Acknowledge what happened, reflect on the lessons learned, and then move on. It’s a generalisation but women tend to ruminate more when things go wrong than their male counterparts.  This may have to do with how our brains are wired but Neuroplasticity means the brain is adept at learning new ways of functioning.  Mind yourself that failure isn't final; it's just a detour on the road to success.  Use the pain of failure as fodder to forge forward rather than a stumbling block that impedes your progress. 

2.     Secondly, get back on the horse. After a failure, particularly a major event, it's easy to become risk-averse, but don't let fear hold you back.  This doesn’t mean however, blindly pursuing the next thing without a proper plan.  It is wise to always plan for the worst-case scenario and have a backup plan in place.

3.     Finally, change your perspective. Instead of seeing failure as a setback, see it as evidence that you're pushing beyond your comfort zone, a necessary part of your development. Success often requires facing failure head-on. Most successful people can attest to this – the more you success you want,  the more failures you’ll have to be prepared to face in order to get to the success. 


In the words of Denis Waitley, "Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker." So let's embrace failure, learn from it, and use it as fuel to propel us forward on our journey to success.


 So what have you failed at recently? And how will it shape what you do next?

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