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failure, learning from failure
Steps to Inca Trail by Steven Damron licensed by CC BY 2.0

Failure is hard and if you’re a recovering perfectionist like me, failure can feel almost deadly. But when you are a leader, failing or making a mistake is tantamount to the world crashing down around you. I understand that feeling all too well.

I experienced a failure recently that, as a new business owner, felt like a big deal. I set a goal and worked my tail off to reach that goal. I meticulously followed the road map given to me by those who had gone before me.

I did everything right and I still failed and it was hard. It was the kind of hard that made giving up a a very viable option. Thankfully I did not give up and I want to share some things I am learning from failure.

Get Out of Your Head

The voice in your head will go into overdrive when you fail. My failure became a perfect opportunity for “the voice” to start a commentary on how not enough I was, with this failure as “proof”.

I admit to entertaining the thoughts for a day or two. There were a lot of tears during that time but I eventually realized I had a choice to make. I could listen to the voice and quit or I could choose to silence that voice and change the narrative running around in my head. I chose the latter.

You have to get out of your head when you make a mistake or experience a failure. If you don’t, you will spiral into a negative place and if you’re not really careful, you will undermine your effectiveness.

Focus your energy on what DID go well and celebrate those wins, no matter how small they might appear. A win is a win so celebrate those without spending too much time focusing on all the things that went wrong.

Failure is Not Final

Failure is not final, it is a chance to begin again. The most important thing I had to remember was that this failure did not have to be the end of the story for me. It was up to me to decide if I wanted to stop or keep moving forward. In the end I decided I wasn’t done yet and went back to the drawing board to start again.

Every great success story that you have ever heard is littered with stories of failure that are rarely told:

Oprah Winfrey was fired from her fired as a news anchor because she “wasn’t fit for television”.

Thomas Edison tried more than 9,000 times before finally inventing the light bulb.

Abraham Lincoln had multiple business failures and several failed attempts to get into politics before being elected President of the United States.

Walt Disney’s first cartoon production company went bankrupt and a newspaper editor ridiculed him for “not having any good ideas for film production”.

Failure is part of the pathway to success. Failing as a leader can feel final but whether or not it IS final is up to you.

Welcome Failure’s Lessons

The old adage hindsight is 20/20 is true for a reason. As I evaluated my failure I realized that while I thought I was doing everything right, I actually made several assumptions that ultimately worked against me.

I couldn’t see them in the moment because I was too focused on reaching my goal but looking back it’s easy to see where I could have done some things differently. Lesson learned!

To make the most of your failure, you have to find the lessons in it. Gleaning ideas for what to do differently the next time allows failure to become a stepping-stone instead of a wall.

Once you’ve evaluated and identified the lessons you then have to shake it off and move on. Stop rehearsing it in your mind and allow it to be a part of your journey to success. Zig Ziglar famously said, “you cannot climb a ladder of success dressed in a costume of failure”.

Use failure as a means to move forward wiser and more determined.

From my heart to yours,

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If failure or a fear of failure is threatening your leadership schedule a complimentary call with me today to discover how the support of a coach can help you be more effective in your leadership.

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