Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Michael Van Osch of thinktankmen.com.
Of course the nasty four-letter F-word I’m referring to is FAIL. The power we’ve given this little word is responsible for more lost dreams and missed goals than any other – the mere thought of it can hold us hostage in our lives and businesses. Like some all-powerful invisible enemy, the fear of failing can cast a spell that paralyzes even the most motivated of souls.
The specter of failing has somehow become so ominous, that it now seems the worst thing that could ever befall someone. Before this myth goes any further, it’s time to shine some light into the dark corner where fear of failure lurks and dispel some of its power. It’s time to reframe the notion of failing so it actually serves you in moving your life forward.
Are You Sitting on the Sidelines?
Whether you’re launching an email marketing campaign or learning to ride a horse, it is critical to remember that simply attempting to do something means that you are taking a step forward. There is huge power in ”˜giving it a whirl’ as this action starts events in motion. Before you can fail (or succeed), there must be the effort of actually doing something. To get bucked off a horse, you actually have to get on it first. In order to fail, you have to be in the game and not merely on the sidelines. Being in the game is more than half the battle. It’s called ”˜showing up’, and it’s the most positive thing you can do on a daily basis.
That right there, ”˜showing up’ and giving the best you’ve got in the moment cannot be overstated – that, my friend, is a key part of success. In fact it’s the most important element in creating continued success because it affords the learning we all need. No great project goes smoothly every day or is simply green light after green light. If it were, it wouldn’t be special, it wouldn’t stretch you, it wouldn’t be important enough to be your calling. And if it’s none of those things then there will be no fulfillment upon completion.
Yes, being in the game will mean that you’ll fail sometimes, but it’s also the only way to give yourself the chance to learn and move closer to succeeding as well – it can’t be forgotten that failing and succeeding go hand-in-hand.
For example, if your dream were to be a virtuoso violinist, you wouldn’t take violin lessons for a year and then expect to be the world’s best, would you? So why take that attitude with your business or writing career or whatever else you’re pursuing? If you are committed to being your best, realize it will be a lifelong process of ups and downs, and it’s supposed to be. It takes years of hard work and ”˜showing up’ every day. Ever hear of the “20-year overnight success”? Well, that is usually how it happens, so it’s critical when you fail at something, to reframe your view of it as a positive signpost, a confirmation that you are moving forward.
Failing Does Not Equal Failure
We live in an age in which you can get an answer to almost any question with the push of a button. On the one hand, that is amazing, but on the other, it has put us in danger of forgetting that the real route to achieving what’s important to us takes time, effort and many failed attempts along the way.
So if you feel like you’re failing more than you’d like to be, remind yourself that you’re in the game, you’re on the road, and you’re right where you’re supposed to be. The only way you can possibly become a failure is if you give up and take yourself out of the game. Failing does not equal failure.
What Will They Think?
Let’s get really honest here and ’fess up – perhaps the biggest reason this fear of failure thing holds us in its grasp is that we worry about what others will think. I don’t care who you are, thoughts like these are simply part of human nature. We all go there in our minds, and it’s normal. No need to continue the self-flagellation over this, just shine a light on it. Acknowledgement alone will help diminish its power.
Ask yourself what you’d look like to others if you failed at your current big dream in life. Actually write down what you think specific people you know might say, might do, how they may treat you differently if you failed. Go ahead right now and scratch down a few words that describe how you would feel if this happened.
Now flip it around and write down how you will feel if you never attempt your big dream. Answer for yourself how staying on the sidelines will affect the rest of your life. Will you be stronger or weaker? Will you be more or less of the person you know you can be?
So now you have a choice. On the one hand, you have what others may think if you fail at your dream business, your writing career or becoming a virtuoso violinist. And on the other hand, you’ve got what your life will be like if you never attempt to achieve your dream, if you never put yourself in the game and thereby never give yourself a chance to fail (and learn). The choice is yours and no one else’s.
Not Accepting Failure
As the term “fear of failure” has become more and more prevalent in daily conversation, I believe that we are becoming too accepting of it as an excuse for not living the lives we want. We are becoming too soft in acquiescing to it. It is a crutch that is too easily leaned upon; a white flag waved prematurely when success isn’t instantaneous. Don’t fall victim to this trap.
Your journey is not like a doing a Google search – the answer doesn’t appear with the touch of the ”˜enter’ key. Our tools may have changed from fifty years ago, but achieving success still involves good old-fashioned failing, learning from it and trying again.
Failing – is an integral part of the formula for achieving success and is admirable.
Failure –sitting on the sidelines, not ”˜showing up’ and not becoming who you are meant to be, that is irresponsible.
Rethink what this four-letter f-word, FAIL, means to you in your life. It can be a tool to serve you, but the choice is yours – will it be your best friend or your worst enemy?
Ethan Waldman says
Great post Michael. I spent many years sitting on the sidelines before I realized that it wasn’t doing me any good. I love the distinction you’ve drawn between failing and failure. Here’s to taking action on our dreams and learning from our mistakes!
Michael Van Osch says
Right on Ethan, congrats for getting into the game you’re meant to play. That’s why it’s also crucial to hang around others who are also in the game – it’s helps ‘action’ become ingrained as a habit in your life.
Maryam Webster says
Good advice here, thanks Michael. One of my favorite of the NLP presuppositions is “There is no failure, only feedback”. The second I learned that, burdens fell from my shoulders and I make sure to pass it on to every client I work with as we’re all prone to overanalyze and beat ourselves up. When failure is reframed as feedback, you get “oh, I tried this and now know another way not to do it correctly. And from this I can learn x, y and z that will help me make another stab at getting it done.”
Einstein was fond of saying that he loved failing at an experiment, it was only through failing “enough times” that he got enough data to do the thing the way he wanted to. I believe it’s additionally important, particularly when coaching another, not to use the words “right” and “wrong” when speaking of personal effort or the desired result, as that casts an unnecessary moral inflection on what is simply a process of learning and experimentation. Thanks again for the great post Michael!
Michael Van Osch says
Great thoughts Maryam. Good to remember that we’re all the “Einstein” of our own lives and just experimenting as we go along – just gotta stay in the lab! Or, as I like to say, if you wanna be a rock star, you’ve gotta pick up a guitar!
Archan Mehta says
It’s great to read your work here. Thank You for your contribution. Thanks also to Charlie who knows how to pluck shining stars from the nght sky.
Personally, I don’t care for words like “failure” and “failing” and so on. I, however, care for staying engaged with the process. Focus on the process like an artist or scientist.
There are words out there which carry negative connotations in our society, so why play this game of semantics? Words can trap you; words can imprison you.
That’s why Rudyard Kipling referred to “success” and “failure” as imposters who should be treated just the same way. Ignore such imposters and just get back in the saddle and keep on trying. Pretty soon, that horsie will have to be taken for a ride. If you try hard enough and work smart enough, your horsie will follow your bidding willingly, but it will take effort.
Given time, you can accomplish any goal or objective, but focus on the positive and never lose track of that “vision” thing. Begone: success and failure. You are not part of my dictionary and you are not welcome in my mind. I am too busy with the process.
Michael Van Osch says
Thanks, I agree Archan. And the way we speak to ourselves everyday is critical to keeping focus and energy. Negative self-talk can be so insidious an so subtle that even the ‘most aware’ folks can fall prey to it.
Congrats on keeping your dictionary free of limiting words.