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Failing Forward

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

My musings take me all sorts of places. Sometimes I have to pull myself up short if I recognise the start of cynicism or some equally negative emotion. There are times though, when a deep revelation brings freedom and gives me a wiser perspective than I ever had about the topic or period of my life that I am reflecting on. One of the things I have reflected on are those times in my life when it seemed I had failed. I don’t like failure, never have, probably never will. Achievement is one of my values. Failure and achievement don’t belong in the same sentence. In the last years my feelings about failure have gradually changed. I am learning to embrace failure as a necessary part of my journey to being better, doing better.

One of the first businesses I started failed within the first 12 months. My business partner and I had this wonderful idea about a clothing range for a specific market. We lacked neither passion nor commitment and where we lacked in the area of finance, we more than made up with enthusiasm. We never for one moment thought we would not succeed (perhaps we were too naïve). We did everything that we could do to succeed – or so we thought. Still, just a few months into the business, I realised that we were going to have to make the difficult decision to shut it all down. Even then, we limped along for a few more months before actually following through on the inevitable.

Failing is nearly always painful. It causes us to question our abilities. We also question the person we believed we were prior to the failure. Perhaps we are not quite as gifted, or resilient as we thought we were. We are ashamed to admit to ourselves and to others that we have failed. Failure feels like a badge we have been given but have no intention of wearing publicly. Every time something remotely similar to what we failed at comes our way, we run a mile. Never again, we say. Too painful to repeat, we feel. Better never to have loved than to have loved and lost. And so on….

Every time we fail at something we have some difficult choices to make. We can choose to let the failure crush us and bring us to the point where we never want to try again. Or we can choose to be brave and try again. This latter choice is laudable. But not before we have spent some time in deep reflection so we can learn whatever lessons we need to learn and have a better chance of succeeding next time. And yes, you guessed it – the fact that I am reflecting more these days means that I have added more failures to my belt. But it’s okay. Failure does not define me. What defines me is how I react to said failure. Do I sulk in a corner, have myself a pity party or do I get up, dust my bruised ego and do it again? Maybe not exactly the same way I did it before, or even the same thing I did – cause that would be madness, right?

Since that first business wound up, I have failed at many other things. But I have also succeeded at a great deal more. I know I will fail again, in fact just this week I have put down something that had come to its natural sooner than I had envisaged. Is failure still painful after all these years? You bet! But I am kinder to myself in the aftermath of failure, allowing myself the time to grieve if that’s what I need to do. Then I pick myself up and keep going. No matter how many steps backwards we take, living is about taking that next step forward, believing that our actions will eventually pay off.

Failure is never final. That is until you decide to pack it in and stop trying. I firmly believe that if you allow it to, failure can teach you more than succeeding ever could. Coaching leaders from all works of life affords me privileged insight into people’s lives that I wouldn’t otherwise have had. By and large, most of my clients can recount many times they have failed, and how they felt afterwards. How they dealt with those feelings invariably determined how they emerged from that period of their life.

Have you failed at something recently? Do you find yourself having to admit that something you gave your everything to has failed? Are you paralysed by the thought of failing at work, business or relationships? Don’t be. You can recover from failure. You can even thrive in the aftermath. Countless that have gone before you have discovered that failure is not final.

The following steps can help you get moving again.

· First of all acknowledge that you have failed. Remind yourself that it is not the end of the road, merely a detour.

· Take time to reflect on what happened, making sure to separate the person – you – from whatever happened. Doing this will help you draw conclusions untainted by unnecessary emotion. Yes it might feel painful right now, but your pain does not have to be permanent or debilitating. Use pain as fodder to forge forward rather than a stumbling block that impedes your progress.

· Ask yourself some honest questions. What could you have done differently? This is where the learning occurs. It can be helpful to do this with someone else like a close friend, colleague, partner or Coach.

· Be kind to yourself. Acknowledge what you did right, however insignificant it may seem at the time.

· ‘Get back on your horse’. After a failure, particularly a major one, it is easy to be so afraid of the future that you never want to do anything with any amount of risk. Don’t let the fear of failure keep you paralysed.

· Pay it forward - find someone else who has failed and encourage him or her by sharing what you have learned.

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