Many of my blogs come from a unique place, I am told. I trust that’s a good thing for each of us. We stretch and learn the most as a result of circumstances we least expect. Thinking about that unexpected space, have you ever considered how failure has shaped you? Bit of a unique approach, don’t you think: failure as a guide, a tool, a positively defining moment. Or maybe you’ve heard the term failing forward. But what do YOU find in those failing forward experiences, to date? And who knows about them other than you?
I love sports stories and analogies and really connected years ago with Michael Jordan’s perspective on failure and greatness. "I have failed over and over and over again and that is why I am great". What a powerful statement: I have failed which is the source of my greatness. That idea works for me; it helps me get closer to failure to find the lessons in it instead of running, hiding, denying or covering my faulty tracks. Failure, therefore, is not permanently debilitating to me. Instead, it becomes something that triggers greatness opens up the possibility of incredible excellence. This connection shifted my thinking from lack, loss, fear and wallowing in self-pity to one of what I have come to call sovereignty over all that is in my life. To me, that’s the ultimate gift. I own all of it, even the bumps and bruises, the so-called failures in my struggles.
I knew a young woman in high school who was gifted, artistic, beautiful, talented, sweet, popular, a singing, dancing glory with smarts. Opportunities were simply handed to her. Everyone loved her. She was perfection. Initially, I hated her until I realized that perfection might be an impossible burden. What if she actually failed, one day. And, by 16 years of age, I figured that was a pretty likely experience for everyone. Suddenly, I felt sorry for her because everyone treated her like perfect was the only acceptable way to be. Slowly came to fear for her life after high school, when the constant crowd of admirers moved on. This discomfort deepened when she sheepishly asked for help from some skillful musician friends in our ensemble on a solo part she’d been struggling to master. She didn't ask for help from our director or her friends in the choir. I had a feeling I knew why: they wouldn’t have taken her request seriously because perfection didn’t need help. She had never failed. She never knew failure or what to do when faced with it, when living it, when piecing oneself back together after it. I feared - at the age of 16 - the very first time she would face failure the experience would break her. Did she possess the resilience that is only borne of falling and rising that is necessary to stand back up in her life? It was a life-changing shift on the so-called gifted people around me.
So what about me, then? How has failure shaped me and am I really aware of it in such a way that I can (or have) used the experience to be resilient, even great, as Jordan suggests? I think I have over time and trial. Failure has defined who I am. In some ways, failure has not been a good definition but in others it's been critical to defining who I am today. I am aware that cover-your-a@@ (CYA) mode does not work for me and that fearing failure or retribution of some sort represents a slide in that direction. So, I tune into when I am feeling CYA mode, push back and remind myself of times when I truly have failed, what I learned from those times and recall, "hey, I’m still breathing"! To be clear, I have been relieved of my duties - read: fired! - twice. The first experience was brutal. Three years of brutal, in fact, until I reminded myself that (a) I’m still breathing and (b) the universe just might be looking out for me in some odd way by leading me through this. So, I looked and looked for points of light in the situation, small, small shreds of silver lining and worked at stitching those together. In this case, I realized I had become master of my own schedule in the aftermath of being shelved from a once-certain career AND someone powerful felt somewhat responsible to help me. These two together gave me permission to re-invent myself steadily and surely. I stood back up and found the space to follow my highest inspiration and solely that because no one else expected much of me, at the time. I carved a new path for myself. I began to thrive. I proved to myself first and everyone else second that I not only could I survive I could become stronger and more resilient than anyone (even me) ever imagined. So strong that the NEXT time I failed, there was barely a shift in my sails. This time, I made my choice, stood by my decision and quickly engaged in my re-invention process. This time, I took others similarly affected along with me. It worked for all of us. But even better for me, because I already had the experience of failure under my belt. Past failure propelled me forward and always will. Now, you know the story too.
What about you, how have you gloriously failed...and who knows your story?