Fear of failure holding you back? Maybe it’s time to celebrate your failures.
Let’s do the math. Which one of the following two formulas describes your life?
- Failure + Blame + Self Recrimination = Failure x 2
- Failure + Assessment + Self Improvement = Success
If you chose #1, you are in the mainstream. We mess up, blame ourselves or others for stupidity, and learn nothing. This perspective doesn’t understand the purpose and value of failing. Failure is not in your life to diminish your value; it’s in your life to increase your value by learning what does and does not work.
#2 is a key life formula to learn and follow. Each time you assess how you responded that didn’t work well, and clarify how to improve on the next similar situation, you are wiser. Life improves. You regain a sense of personal power over outer circumstances. You feel back on top. You feel less as a victim and more in charge of life.
Each time you fail to assess how you responded that didn’t work well, you are inclined to repeat the same failure, thus exponentially increasing a personal belief that you are a failure. Once you buy into that self-image, you see “proof” everywhere you look. It’s a self-defeating perspective that digs you into a hole that is increasingly difficult to emerge from.
What if you chart new life experiences with the intention to fail so that you can learn? It’s been said that Thomas Edison had thousands of failed attempts to invent the light bulb. His friend Walter S. Mallory shared the following story:
“I said: ‘Isn’t it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done you haven’t been able to get any results?’ Edison turned on me like a flash, and with a smile replied: ‘Results! Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work!‘”
We appreciate today that Edison was not stopped by his mistakes. Failure teaches us. We learn what does not work. We can adjust, decide what works better, and use this new approach next time. With each progressive step, we learn one more thing that will not work, or one more thing that will. Success is the step-by-step progressive realization of goals, not one big overnight, perfect, monumental achievement. Most “overnight” sensations in the writing or acting fields describe a litany of failed attempts before they finally earned recognition.
Little children aren’t afraid to fail, until they are conditioned to avoid it. Have you ever seen a baby learn to walk? They pull themselves up, take a few faltering steps, and fall. Yet they get up to try again and again. Soon they are running everywhere and we wonder if they will ever slow down! If toddlers acted as many adults, they would never make that first attempt to walk. Their minds would fill with thoughts such as “What if I fall? What will Mom and Dad think? What if I hurt my knee?” Instead, they keep their minds on the reward and not the effort. They focus on the joyful end result and are willing to experience temporary failure to reach their goal.
What do you want to do right now in your life that you are putting off for fear of failure? What is holding you back? To move forward through a perceived failure, try the following:
- Write down the mental and emotional barriers that appear to stand in your way.
Many perceived barriers are a story we have created in our mind, and not based on facts. Also, notice how many of barriers are based on other people’s opinions of you. When we let other people’s opinions limit our choices, we are living their life, not our own. You are here to live your life, offering your unique gifts to this world. If you hold back, you diminish the possibilities for all of us. We need what you have to offer.
- List small action steps you can take to reach your goal.
If your mental and emotional barriers are strong, you might choose one of these as your first goal. Action steps can include counseling, talking it through with a trusted friend, reading a self-help book, or taking a class. Working with one area, you will naturally improve in others. All things are connected. You move forward when you take constructive action instead of defensive inaction. Sometimes you have to go out on a limb, because that’s where the fruit is. Are you worth the effort? You bet!
- In a journal, each day list at least one positive action step you took toward your goal.
Included among these might be a failure! What did you learn from it? What insight did you gain that will enable you to do it better the next time? That insight is a success to include on your list. Don’t allow yourself to go to bed without listing this action. If necessary, get out of bed to do something. Once, on a mission to clear out unnecessary clutter from my life but having done nothing that day, I made myself get out of bed at 2AM to clean out the refrigerator. After tossing out four dishes of uneaten left-overs, broccoli nursing its young, over-ripe cheese, and wiping months worth of dripped catsup, mustard, and unnameable smears off the shelving, I felt wonderful. When on a mission of success, consistent movement forward is self-inspiring!
Failure is only a word that describes a step that faltered. Look to your vision, take another step, and move onward toward your joy!
Take life into your own hands and make it happen. It’s your life. Lead it.
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