Failure Isn’t an Option: But Not For the Reason You Might Think

My last blog was all about the future of customer feedback, but for this one, I’d like to get a little more personal. I’d like to share a recent experience of mine where I found myself facing failure and the many thoughts that crossed my mind. After working for the same business for over nine years I was presented with an amazing opportunity to do something completely different. Something new. Something where I could develop new skills in an environment outside of the realm of anything I had done before.

My first response was very simple. Absolutely! How could I not take on this chance to learn something new, meet new people, and be a part of new and exciting projects?

Then the doubt crept in

I was doing quite well in my role, with a clearly defined career path and the support of some great mentors and leaders within the business. I have a young family, with two kids under seven just starting their schooling, and a wife already overstretching herself (working part time while also managing a home, a family, and a “sometimes forgets how old he is” husband).

Then there was the job itself. What if I was no good at it? What if they decided to go another direction? What if I didn’t enjoy it? I couldn’t make this decision and put my entire family at risk, could I? All of a sudden, fear started to set in. Fear of failing. Fear of not being able to provide for my family.

Fortunately for me, one of my mentors inspired me. He said:

Andres, the fact that you are going for it means you have succeeded already. The fact that you are taking the ‘what if’ out of the equation means that no matter the outcome, you will be better for it in the end – and the experience will make you a better person.” 

I’ve learnt a lot from this person over the years, but this one conversation changed my entire perspective.

The secret is: you’ve already succeeded

The simple way to look at it is: as long as you give it a go, and don’t let doubt or fear stop you, then you have already succeeded – no matter the decision, event, or choice. This could be related to a potential job offer like mine, but it’s equally relevant with something like starting a family, selling a home, reaching out to someone, or making a new friend. You can never fail as long as you embrace the situation for what it is: an opportunity.

The saying “change is as good as a holiday” is selling the idea short. Very short. Another mentor of mine told me that change give us the opportunity to grow, develop, learn and change. We only get the chance to do these things if we take on new experiences and get out of our comfort zone.

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If we never take the opportunity, how do we grow?

Often we get so hung up on the result – so tied up in thinking about whether it will be the right one, favourable, better for us financially – that we forget to embrace the journey and everything it teaches us.

But it’s not all our fault. Everywhere we look, everything we hear, everything we are taught – it all teaches us that that the only thing that truly matters is the result. Winning the trophy, sealing the deal, getting an A in your exam, getting the girl … it’s all about the end. No one ever talks about the value you get out of the experience itself. How much growth and development is available to you if you take the chance. No one tells you that the journey is worth more than the result, that gathering up the courage to speak to that girl at the other side of the dance-floor develops courage and confidence, even if she says no. That practice and training creates a mindset of hard work, perseverance, and a never-give-up mentality – even if you don’t win the championship. Had I known this previously, then perhaps my decision to change jobs would have been a no-brainer in the first place, instead of the agonising sleepless nights of indecision.

It’s not failure, it’s learning

Take small business owners, as an example. According the Australian Bureau of Statistics, more than 60% of small businesses cease operating within the first three years of starting. You might see this as a negative. I see it another way. I see people who have developed, grown or learnt something new they never could have, had they not taken on this challenge. Ralph Heath (author of the book, “Celebrating Failure: The Power of Taking Risks, Making Mistakes, and Thinking Big”) said it best when he wrote, “Failure and defeat are life’s greatest teachers but sadly most people … don’t want to go there”.  He also takes it one step further when he writes, “One of the biggest secrets to success is operating inside your strength zone, but outside of your comfort zone”.

That’s the big one for me right there. I am not suggesting that we simply take on every challenge, (obviously consider your situation and circumstances and make sure you take a “calculated risk”) but sticking to your strength, and getting out of your comfort zone, can do wonders for your growth as a person. Most of these small business owners “fail” because they either lack the long-term strategic planning in order to be sustainable, or because they did not research fully the market demand and costs for the idea to truly prosper. If these business owners had an open mind to the journey and experience, they’d now be wiser for the experience. They would understand the importance of strategic planning and market research and this would serve them well in their next endeavour. Had they not taken the chance, they would never have learnt this.

Fall forward

A video I’ve seen shared online shows Denzel Washington speaking at a University Graduation. He’s not talking to them about their recent success completing their degrees, or even future success in their chosen career paths. Instead, he is talking to them about failing. He uses the phrase “Fall Forward”, meaning that at one point or another in your life, you will fail. You will try something and not succeed. You will suck. But don’t treat this as the end, treat it as the beginning! Don’t give up, but learn from the experience. Learn and better yourself, learn and help those around you better themselves. John Maxwell (author of “Falling Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success”) wrote, “To achieve any worthy goal, you must take risks”.

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So why avoid risk?

There’s a concept that anxiety about making the wrong decision and suffering consequences can stop some people from making a decision entirely. It can also be a sign of depression, in that there may be a pessimistic view of reasonable options and an inability to act. The common thread amongst both is the result. Fear of the result not going as intended, or fear that the consequence will be too much to bear.

We shouldn’t treat fear of failure as a negative, but instead embrace it for the opportunity. The opportunity to learn, to develop, to grow, and to change.

Every day, people are met with choices they don’t even realise exist, and most will often think about a significant decision but will talk themselves out of it. Changing jobs, selling your home, moving cities, travelling, studying… all are choices we are met with frequently but choose to stay the course, despite knowing deep-down that making a change is the right thing to do.

It’s not about doors closing

Life is full of choices. We have all heard that expression that when one door closes another one opens. I don’t agree. I believe there are no doors in the first place, only doorways. The only thing in our way the only thing stopping us from walking through is ourselves. We are met with new doorways every day. New job offers, new opportunities, new friendships. How receptive are we to walking through these doors? What if we don’t like what we see? If we focus on the outcome rather than the journey then we are missing a key piece of life – experience.

We have all heard the stories of successful people who have failed but have come back to succeed.

  • Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team
  • Thomas Edison had 1,000 failed experiments before inviting the light bulb
  • Oprah Winfrey was fired from her local news station who declared she wasn’t “fit for television”.

Each one of these experiences teaches us that failure is not a negative, but a positive. So embrace it! Don’t fear it, treat it for what it is. An opportunity to grow. An opportunity to learn, an opportunity to develop, and an opportunity to grow.

I for one, am glad I’ve taken on this opportunity with Stellar, and am looking forward to the learning, development and growth that’s to come.

Like my blog? I’m keen to hear your thoughts. Connect on LinkedIn or tweet at Stellar to let us know what you think.


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