Success and failure…
Success and failure are like yin and yang. Two sides of the same coin. Can we just have success without failure? Usually that is not the case in real life. The reverse is also true. Can we just have failure without success? If you try enough times and change enough things and respond to actual needs rather than what you think others need, do you think that failure is possible without any success? Are you wary and fearful of failure and avoid failing at any cost?
If you do, you very possibly consider failure to be a dirty word and you might be putting up success on a pedestal. I know that the buzzword is success. How to be successful? All the tips and ways to become successful are everywhere. And that is perfectly fine!
But often what is left out in the dirt is the idea of failing. As a society, we are abhorrent and distasteful of failure. We are conditioned at an early age that the winner takes all the glory and even coming second is not good enough. But not good enough for whom? What about the journey and the trials and tribulations and the training to come at second place? You are made to feel not good enough because you do not fit the conventional mold of “success.” And you give up trying because you think you might end up in failure anyway.
Have you heard many people in a party who say that they have failed gloriously and they have gotten quite a lot from the process and are going to implement those changes?
The answer might be: not very much.
People mostly like to speak of success as if talking about failure will inflict more failure upon them. But if we do not share our failures, learn from them and embrace them, the opportunity to learn and teach becomes limited.
In science, researchers understand very quickly that failure is not a bad thing at all. If fact, they fail so many times and fail so consistently in making things work in science experiments that they soon adapt to a new strategy. The new strategy is the strategy of failing and moving on to alternate hypotheses. Every failure then becomes a key piece in the understanding of the puzzle. And you eventually stop hating failure. In fact, you welcome it as part of the trial and error process. I know this because I have been there!
Suddenly, failure becomes an invaluable tool in the understanding of life. And that’s how it should be. A lot of novel things that we try out may not work out as planned and seem like failures. If we can learn from science research and form alternate hypotheses and routes to answer questions and learn from failure, we have a better crack at the solution.
The story of the discovery of penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming was an accidental discovery based on a failed experiment. The story itself is very fascinating and used as a gold standard for demonstrating the effectiveness of a failed experiment. Sir Alexander was growing bacteria on culture plates that were placed on a lab bench. On one particular occasion, after coming back from a vacation he noticed that his plates had gotten contaminated with a particular mold. Usually the first response that anyone that works in a lab is to throw the plates under a microscope, observe the contamination and consider the experiment a failure.
However, Sir Alexander was not immediately discouraged by the failed experiment and made an observation that eventually lead to the discovery of antibiotics. He observed that the contaminating mold had prevented the growth of bacteria around itself and formed circles of no growth. And instead of another failed experiment, he was able to accidentally discover the antibiotic nature of the mold penicillin; a discovery that arguably saved more lives in medical history than any other event. For further information please visit: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1945/fleming-bio.html.
Thus a change of perspective and learning from a failure has the potential of a life-changing discovery. Many times things do not work out as we desire or plan for and we fail at something. But how we respond to the seeming failure can make all the difference. Failure presents a ripe field of discovery and realignment if we let go of the negative connotation attached with the act of failing.
Often, it is not the act of failing itself that people are fearful but the fear of failure. And in that fear of failure, attempts are not made, dreams are not fulfilled and love is lost. So we need to become aware of our preconditioning towards not taking risks in an attempt to prevent failure and as a result not taking action and staying stuck in resistance.
The key is to launch and then move forward. Improvise on previous failures and create new hypotheses and test them out for yourself. Usually for our own experience, it is difficult to read a complete how to succeed in our field manual and tips from other sources. Rather we can use ideas and suggestions as a framework, see what has worked for others before and test the waters ourselves. And form our own alternate hypotheses according to our own unique situations. And failing in an aspect of our plan just makes us open to the possibility of other pathways and those can be acquired by feedback from others and testing what actually works.
It may benefit you to form a failing forward work group where you can share experiences of what did not work out and how you used the awareness of the situation to move forward into other paths. As we try out alternate hypotheses, we come closer to our goals of what we would like to achieve and desire.
An action primer:
1. Realization: Realize that you may not be taking action and moving forward because you fear failure or you fear appearing unsuccessful.
2. Alternate hypotheses: What if you do not do well at your plan? D0 you have alternate hypotheses to move forward upon?
3. Take action: It is key to test your idea or current hypothesis. Let actions determine if an idea or plan will be successful. Not just engage in mind experiments only but real honest brick and mortar laying type actions. Action is absolutely essential!
4. Understand: Learn and understand the conceptual gaps in your plan that made it less favorable.
5. Realign and improvise: Using the knowledge and understanding that we have now, do something different enough to get a different result. This step is key! If we keep doing the same thing, it is hard to get a different result. In other words, less time spinning wheels and more time trying other stuff.
6. Move forward: Try, fail, improvise, try something else, learn more, and repeat. Start slow at first and build momentum eventually .
These are some of the ways we can use the amazing power and insights we gain to propel forward and not be stuck in fear or the “should I” or “what if I”…and we make peace with failure and use the wisdom encapsulated within to benefit us rather than get paralyzed by it. Of course, this means reconditioning our fight or flight response to failure and becoming all right with the uncertainty and moving ahead with the insight that failure may provide.
Please hit reply and share how failure has influenced your life. Have you approached failure with a perspective of growth and learning or do you feel crushed by failure?