Failing Does Not Make You a Failure

28 Mar

Missing the mark does not make me a failure; it only means that my plan did not work out as I had anticipated. ~From the Book Born Rich

It is said that the fear of failure is one of our greatest fears. But why is that? We certainly weren’t born with the fear of failure. In fact as infants and toddlers we were pretty much fearless. We needed to be, because there was so much to learn, and if we were afraid of trying we would never have learned to crawl, to stand up, to walk or even to speak.

So who taught us to fear failing? You can say society but I think it came a little closer to home. Failing, and the fear of failing, are learned responses taught to us by our parents, siblings, friends, classmates, teachers and others who interacted with us when we were young. It usually came when we took a risk and tried something new.

Have you ever watched a baby learn how to stand on their own? They’ll crawl up to a low table and with chubby hands and fingers reach up to the tables edge, and then using all their strength pull their body up, only to find that their little legs couldn’t hold them. So they plop back to the floor and within seconds their hands will be reaching out to the table’s edge to try again. And they’ll continue to try over and over again until they succeed. At this age no one taught them to feel embarrassment and shame at failing to succeed.

I recently gave a keynote address to a corporation’s international sales team about our fear of failing, and this is what I said:

“In 2nd grade your teacher may have asked you to come up to the front of the room and read your essay on what you did that summer. At first you were confident, but then as you began reading you struggled over some words, or lost your place. The kids all started laughing and the more they laughed the more embarrassed you felt, and the worse you did. As you looked over at your teacher you saw on her face that she was disappointed in you, and when she admonished you by saying, “Next time I expect something better,” you were praying that there never would be a next time. But oh there was.”

Fear of failing is a social fear and has absolutely no basis in fact. What we fear is not the thing we are attempting, but the laughs and jeers of others if we don’t succeed. Our faces will flush with embarrassment. We may even feel some shame. Our “friendly ego” will flood our mind with vivid memories of all the other times in life we failed, repeating every taunt we heard from those who were present.

The older we get the more failure adverse we become. Some of us actually believe that we should know the answer to every question we are asked. And when we don’t we fear we’ll look stupid to the asker. Others are totally risk adverse. Avoiding at all costs learning or doing something new, because they fear being a newbie or a novice. Every time we do this, we lose. We lose the joy of doing something or learning something new. We lose the opportunities that come with a new skill. Sometimes we may even lose the perfect life partner – because we were afraid to go to a dance or party where we would have met them.

Is this any way to live our lives? Absolutely not. Just remember that when you do fail it is an expected part of the learning process. And failing does not make you a failure.

With Love,

Michael

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