In a culture besotted with success how can we have a more productive relationship with our failures? And if the word failure is an "ego thing", how can we view the painful episode as a course correction and a valuable lesson learned? At the same time how can we not lower our standards in the pursuit of excellence?
Some measures that we use in our organizations are helpful like the “voice of the customer or employee”. Such metrics keep us honest and on our toes about the value and quality of our performance.
However, we are at a point in our national and personal history where we need a paradigm shift that keeps us from trying to avoid failure at all costs. Wallpapering our shortcomings to hide them from the world and polishing our perpetually successful image is not our real world. It is not the voice of our best or what Thomas Merton names our "substantial" self.
The good news is that we all fail by the standards of the perpetual success paradigm. For example,
· A huge percentage of Start Ups don’t make it on the first (or second or third) attempt
· We have all been laid off at some time
· Many of our relationships have not been satisfying or productive
· And so on and so on
How then can we make friends with our own mistakes and failings?
1. Don’t indulge in shame-based messages like “The mistake that I made is the mistake that I am”. I failed is not to be equated with "I am a failure". In the end, it is how we view failure that counts.
2. Avoid catastrophic all-or-nothing thinking that views a mistake as the end of our world. Instruct your crazed mind that the failure was a “learning trial” or your teacher of wisdom and best practice.
3. Look at examples of people like St. Francis of Assisi who did not take offense when he was insulted or criticized. Such a mature disposition adopts a detachment from the opinion of others. Or in the words of ancient Hindu wisdom, “Do your duty to god without your eyes on the fruit of your action”.
4. Have the insight to know that the pursuit of perpetual success is what psychologist Carl Jung named our “shadow” or false self.
5. Don't minimize our failures by shrugging them off and saying "This is no big deal". There is a time to grieve the many disappointments that come our way. We then allow healing to take place in its own time.
If degrees were given for failures in life I would have another Ph.D. Here I reflect on a recent meditation of Fr. Richard Rohr
“One of the great surprises on the human journey is that we come to full consciousness precisely by shadowboxing, facing our own contradictions, and making friends with our own mistakes and failings. People who have had no inner struggles are invariably superficial and uninteresting. We tend to endure them more than appreciate them because they have little to communicate and show little curiosity”.
How was your "failure" one of the best things that happened to you?