Redefining Failure

Failure. Google an image for the word and you see some interesting pictures. Men with their heads down in shame, so distraught that they can’t possibly face the world again. You see the word hi-lited in RED as if to warn of impending danger and doom. Stay away! Look up the definition of the word and you’ll see “lack of success” along with synonyms like “defeat” and “collapse”. It goes hand in hand with the images, doesn’t it?

Perhaps your parents taught you at a tender age that failure is not a good thing. Avoid it. Don’t do things that you will fail at. Only do things that you will be successful at. If your parents didn’t send that message (be thankful because many do, completely unintentionally of course), then clearly society has. That is unequivocally proven with the images and definition of the word.

I have a different take on it. I think failure is a good thing. Not always, but many times, it is a wonderful beacon of hope. Why? Because it shows you are trying to get better or to learn something new. You are stretching for something that is not comfortable. If it was comfortable, you wouldn’t fail, right?

Failure is also the most amazing opportunity to learn. You can read books or listen to lectures all day long but it isn’t until you get out and do, that you truly learn how to do something. All the schooling in the world doesn’t fully prepare you for your first full time job. How can it? You don’t get your first full time job until you are out of school and in the real world. By definition, you cannot be in school and in the real world at the same time. Walking in the door for your first day of employment, many things occur, most of which are not taught in school. Get behind a computer, make a telephone call, connect with a customer, become leader of a team—education does not provide comprehensive training for this. Much of the real learning takes place by jumping in. And as you do it more and more, you evolve and make changes and pick up gems here and there. After some time- usually years- you get really good at what you do for a living. Then it’s time to take it to the next level. But make no mistake- to get there, you have had to learn along the way, make adjustments, reach for something that makes you slightly uncomfortable. Chances are- you failed at some point along the way.

Maybe you missed a deadline. Maybe you lost a customer, or made one unhappy. Or failed to turn an unhappy one into a happy one. Or you jumped to a conclusion about a team member that was false and had to eat your words. Perhaps the report you wrote had an error. Or two. Or it was missing some information. You get the point. You absolutely cannot get to a successful place in life….if you have not failed.

I am a great example of a failure. I made under $50,000 a year until my fortieth year. I didn’t graduate college until I was 36. I managed to push my life-long dream of being a writer into the ground in my awkward teenage years, only to procrastinate for several more years after pulling it up from the dirt as a thirty-something. I buried it. But it was not dead. I was once dumped by a girlfriend via a letter (she couldn’t even give a phone call!) because I apparently talked too much at one prior conversation we had. Another broke up with me because she was concerned I “didn’t make enough money and couldn’t buy a ring or a house “. A former employer didn’t find my significant money and time saving contributions, or the overflowing level of respect that its global network had for me, worthy of promotion of even fair market compensation. If you look at it, I was a failure in every sense; from my salary, my education, pursuit of my dream, my relationships, my career progression—you name it, I’ve failed at it.

And I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve used my college education to help others increase their performance. I write consistently- for this blog, for another that gets more than 40-million page views a year, for my company and most importantly, for me. I married my best friend, who is the perfect woman for me and the mother of our two sweet, beautiful children. (Side note, my wife is a stop- you- in- your- tracks singer and has curly hair, traits of which my daughter, who started to sing before she could talk and son, a super handsome curly haired kid who also loves to sing, took on from her. If I married one of my ex’s, my kids wouldn’t be so darn cute or talented!). I’ve doubled my income and am no longer underpaid or undervalued. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. Faith has been placed in me to lead and perform and I’ve done just that. I’ve coached others to new heights and levels of awareness and opened a curiosity as to what is possible.

You won’t catch me with my head down, clutching my head in agony over failing. When I fail, you’ll see me using it as a learning opportunity. As a chance to grow and step out again into the unknown to take on fear and make myself better than yesterday. I hope I fail again. Often. Because I know if I am failing, I am trying to make myself better and if I am doing that…yet another level of success is coming soon.

It’s all how you perceive the meaning of the word and what you do when you meet an outcome that was not what you desired. Go out and try again- do it differently, better, the next time. With all due respect, I hope you fail!