Are you really making progress, moving forward, if you aren’t failing? What if failure is a necessity? I know this is going to sound strange, maybe even illogical, but failing and surviving will actually prepare you to take bigger risks and fail less often. If you are caught in a trap of continually seeking security, you may have an incorrect or misinformed view of failure. Failure isn’t final and our perception of what is safe or secure, and thereby avoiding failure, is often leading us to an outcome more dangerous than taking the perceived risk.
Helen Keller said “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Everything in life brings risk.
Here’s an example: do you know anyone who is afraid to fly? They can’t imagine being in a small, claustrophobic tube propelling through the air 30k feet above the earth at 600 mph. That sounds WAY too risky. So, they rationalize, it’s safer to drive to my destination. I’ll just get in my car and while it might take significantly longer to arrive, I will be in control here on the ground and arrive in one piece…
But realize the scrutiny that a plane undergoes before it takes off. The condition of the pilot and crew. The rules that require assessing the operable condition prior to the closing of the cabin door. Now compare that to the average driver who doesn’t even look at the condition of their tires much less check the air pressure. The driver who likely doesn’t even know how to check engine oil, transmission fluid, coolant, brake fluid etc…you know, the driver who hasn’t taken care of the check engine light that has been coming on for a few weeks now.
Seriously, you feel safer getting in the car and trying to stay awake for 12, 24 or 36 hours to drive across the country when you could have flown in a fraction of the time? The odds don’t support your fear: your odds of dying in a car crash vary from 1 in 20 to 1 in 5,000. Do you know your odds of dying in a plane crash? 1 in 11 million.
This is just one of many examples where we think we are pursuing security, but really what we are pursuing is familiar and it has lulled us into a false sense of control. I hate to break it to you, but the only thing you have control over is yourself!
Am I Taking Enough Risk?
Not senseless risk, but intelligent risk. Fletcher Byrom says that if you come to the end of a year and haven’t made any mistakes, then you haven’t tried everything you should have tried. After all, risk and failure is part of the human condition.
In Chapter 3 of their book Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, David Bayles and Ted Orland relay this story:
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”.
Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work—and learning from their mistakes —the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
If you think good work is somehow synonymous with perfect work, you are headed for big trouble. Art is human; error is human; ergo, art is error. Inevitably,
your work (like, uh, the preceding syllogism…) will be flawed. Why? Because you’re a human being, and only human beings, warts and all, make art. Without warts, it is not clear what you would be, but clearly, you wouldn’t be one of us.
In other words, it’s the process of try, fail, learn and repeat that eventually produces a great work. Done is better than perfect. It’s not because done is everything you wanted it to be. Done is better than perfect because when the focus is on perfection, there is no room for experience to teach.
Training For Adversity Is Equally As Important As Preparing For Success
J. Wallace Hamilton “People are training for success when they should be training for failure. Failure is far more common than success; poverty is more prevalent than wealth, and disappointment more normal than arrival.” Here’s the point Mr. Hamilton is making: one of the explanations for increases in addiction, suicide, depression, and nervous breakdowns is the emotional unpreparedness for experiencing failure.
In his book Failing Forward, John Maxwell said that “The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure.” So what motivates us to take a risk? He says to evaluate risk by the value of the goal, not by the fear that it generates in you or the probability of your success.
Emelia Earhart wanted to make a name for women. She wanted to identify that women were capable and competent. She wanted to open doors for women and legitimize their ability in the cockpit which she believed when open opportunities for women in commercial aviation It drove her to prove that women could be not just adequate, but exceptional pilots. Her motto was “if at first you do succeed, try something harder.”
We all know that she lost her life in her attempt to be the first woman to circumnavigate the globe in an airplane. The flight path was as close to the equator as possible to ensure that the distance of 29,000 miles would be the longest flight accomplished by either gender (29,000 miles). What you might not know is that she and her navigator, Frederick Noonan, were 22,000 miles into their journey when they departed from New Guinea and were never heard from again.
Is The Goal Worth The Risk?
Would this have been a goal that Emelia would have willingly given her life for? I guess we won’t know that, but it’s hard to believe she could have been dissuaded from pursuing her objective. She once gave this advice on risk: “Decide whether or not the goal is worth the risks involved If it is, stop worrying.” Thank you Emelia – words to live by.
Isn’t it worth the potential of experiencing rejection in order to find the man or woman you will spend the rest of your life with? Isn’t it worth failing to achieve the desired outcome when the action alone will bring momentum or progress to your field and everyone benefits? Your goal should be sufficiently large to cause you concern about fulfilling it on your own. Think big and embrace the risk of failure.
“The things which hurt, instruct.” – Benjamin Franklin
Figure Out Why
Things aren’t going to go right. They are going to fall apart. What was a “sure thing” becomes a hot mess of disaster. Figuring out why is an important part of the failure process. Glenn Llopis says “this may sound counter-intuitive, but once you understand why you failed you may realize that you weren’t that far away from success.”
A really smart man that I work with, David Van Hess, shared this bit of gold one time when talking about answering the question “why”: he said when you get an answer to the question, don’t just stop asking! Push back, challenge, question make sure you’ve got a good answer. In root cause analysis, you often ask why five times – if you remember in LTL 048: Influence Anyone In Seven Minutes Or Less, asking the five whys is step #5 in the process of determining why an outcome is important to you.
You aren’t asking why repeatedly to be annoying…unless you are three years old, then you might be trying to annoy… You ask to get past symptoms and identify causes. Recognize that there are times when you are blind to the answers. It’s useful to bring in outsiders to help assess why it occurred. Sometimes we are too close to see our mistakes.
I wish I could tell you how many times Ginger saw clearly what I could have done differently to produce a successful outcome.
Leverage External Relationships To Get Another View Of Failure
Often, others will see an opportunity that is resulting and you might completely miss it. Don’t be afraid to talk to a therapist. Sometimes the simple act of digging into the “whys” with someone who is unfamiliar will force you to talk through and expose the very thoughts and ideas that can turn failure into future success.
Maybe most importantly, when you seek advice from an outsider, make sure it’s from someone who has successfully handled failure. Taking relationship advice from your uncle who has been through divorce three times might not be the best idea…but maybe I’m wrong. If he can tell you what went wrong the first three times, you might very well be able to avoid duplicating those mistakes.
Elbert Hubbard said, “A failure is a man who blundered, but is not able to cash in on the experience.” Marshall Goldsmith and Dan Levitan offer these four suggestions:
Four Suggestions To Help You Learn From Failure:
- Realize that we all make mistakes, not just us, but others too
- Forgive yourself
- Assess the situation then make change if necessary
- Remember your deeper mission in life
Neil Strauss says you don’t know if something is good or bad. The end is not the end! It’s just a step on your path. You don’t know. The outcome is not the outcome. Keep moving forward!
To emphasize this point I’ll share a story that you may have heard before.
There is an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “May be,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “May be,” replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “May be,” answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “May be,” said the farmer.
You don’t know how things are going to turn out. Be optimistic about your future! Learn from your mistakes and failures, forgive yourself and others, make the changes that are necessary and keep focused on your deep mission.
Great Quotes From This Episode:
“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller
“People are training for success when they should be training for failure. Failure is far more common than success; poverty is more prevalent than wealth, and disappointment more normal than arrival.” – J. Wallace Hamilton
“The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure.” – John C. Maxwell
“If at first you do succeed, try something harder” – Emelia Earhart
“Decide whether or not the goal is worth the risks involved If it is, stop worrying.” – Emelia Earhart
“The things which hurt, instruct.” – Benjamin Franklin
“This may sound counter-intuitive, but once you understand why you failed you may realize that you weren’t that far away from success.” – Glenn Llopis
“A failure is a man who blundered, but is not able to cash in on the experience.” – Elbert Hubbard
Resources Mentioned In This Episode:
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