Who are the three people described below, and what do they have in common?
- An author who wrote her first book on an old typewriter and the manuscript was rejected by 12 publishers.
- The inventor who produced over 3000 prototypes.
- The noble prize winning physicist who did not speak until he was four, and his teachers thought had learning disabilities.
The thing they have in common is failure. The people referred to are JK Rowling (Harry Potter author), James Dyson (inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner), and Albert Einstein (one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century). John looked at failure from a systems thinking perspective in his previous blog “The Most Successful Failure Ever” , and I want to consider this topic from a personal perspective and courageous goals.
We frequently hear about successes; sporting medals and trophies won, mountains climbed, job promotions achieved, contracts won, new clients obtained, etc. But we seldom hear about failures. Unless you are a sports person losing in public, the failure often remains hidden from other people. Because of this private nature of failure it can feel like ‘I am the only one’. However, behind a list of everyone’s personal successes there is a much longer list of failures, as the examples above demonstrate. Failure is a necessary part of the process leading to success.
As a coach and facilitator, I face failure every day and I feel this more than ever when I am in sales and marketing mode. The emails I spent ages composing, once sent, are ignored and disappear into the dark unknown. Most of the phone calls I make seem to go to voicemail and are not returned. Recipients do not reply to complimentary copies of the Challenging Coaching book. At this point I feel demoralised, demotivated and want to go and do something completely different. When I hear of people around me succeeding, I wonder ‘why not me?’ and I feel a failure.
With failure comes hurt and the very powerful emotion of embarrassment and feelings of inadequacy. This is particularly true when selling coaching services. I have a great emotional investment and attachment in what I do as a coach. It is as if I am selling myself and this is a million miles away from selling fridges that are simply functional pieces of metal.
However, as this feeling passes, I realise that failing is very different to being a failure.
Michael Jordon one of the greatest basketball players of all time failed many times. He failed to get into his university team on the first attempt. He later went on to say “I have missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over gain in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
During the times of failure we are learning. We are learning about ourselves, and what to do differently next time. We learn about our resilience and the surprising depth of personal resources we have within. This learning from failure takes courage. The courage to challenge ourselves to try again. There are many people for whom this challenge is too much and they cannot again face the possibility of failure. So they stop, they do not try again. I do not blame anyone for taking a different path in the face of failure.
Here are some suggestions to help develop the courage to face failure:
- Have a dream, a courageous goal.
- Along the way expect, accept and embrace failure as just part of the process, you’re one step nearer to your courageous goal.
- Acknowledge your feelings of disappointment, etc. don’t deny them. These feelings are typical and valid and so you are normal.
- Reflect on what you have learned from this failure. Reframe the situation and ask yourself “how has this failure helped me?”
- Remind yourself of your courageous goal. Visualise yourself achieving it and create a mental photograph, experience the feelings of achievement and pride.
- Identify the one simple next step and share this with someone else.
- Take the step and then reflect.
This year I expect to fail at establishing Challenging Coaching as a core coaching text in the USA. What have you failed at today? What would you expect to fail at in 2014?