We need to talk about failure
There is one thing I excel at, it’s failure. I’ve singularly failed at well over half the things I’ve ever attempted to do. And even those of you that are poor at statistics will be able to work out those aren’t good odds.
Learn to play the guitar? Fail
Learn to speak German? Fail
Learn to code? 404
Significant parts of my working life have also included spectacular fails – its hard sometimes to not bring your whole self to work…..
Let me tell you about someone else that failed, my friend Steve. Last week he tried to swim across the English Channel to France. Now that’s not easy, in the same week someone tragically lost their life whilst trying to complete the same challenge. Steve stopped seven and a half hours in to his attempt. In a Facebook post he said this,
“Yesterday was not my day. I’m really disappointed, as can be expected. I trained hard for this for 18 months, and thought I had it covered. Battles were lost in the lumpy sea with wind against tide as we progressed into the open water (albeit that my pilot Simon described them as good for the channel), vomiting everything in my stomach and more after 2.5 hours, and struggling to take on more fuel quickly enough, but the war was undoubtedly lost in my mind, and that’s what I’m most disappointed about.”
Steve failed. And in my book, that makes him great.
In the world of work, we struggle to fail. We invest so much time, effort and energy in making things happen that we become unable to accept that they’re not a success. We make up reasons for the situation, the environment, the market, the opportunity. When you’ve been through twenty-six board meetings, fourteen rounds of business cases and eventually got the go ahead, it is pretty hard to accept that anything isn’t right.
And when we cannot accept that we’ve failed, we pass up the opportunity to learn. We take nothing away, because we create a narrative that explains events through untrue circumstances.
Read that comment from Steve again. Did he blame the waves? The wind? The flotsam and jetsam of our muddied waters? Or did he analyse and own his own performance.
All of us will fail this week in small and inconsequential ways. We won’t all be swimming the channel, or starting new businesses. We won’t be running marathons or climbing mountains. But nonetheless we can learn from our failures all the same.
I love failure, you should love failure. We should embrace failure as our biggest opportunity to grow, not as the biggest threat to our self-worth. At the end of the day, those who don’t try, can’t fail. And the brave will try, fail, learn, grow and try again. That’s what makes them stand out as exceptional.
So as you go about your business this week, remember we can all be successful at not doing a lot, or we can shoot high and run the risk that we miss.
Maybe it’s me, but I can’t help thinking, things could be a whole lot more interesting if we were all just a little bit more Steve.