The word has lots of negative connotations. Nobody wants to fail. Nobody wants to be thought of as a failure. And yet, we’ve all failed at something at some point in our lives.
Who defines failure?
What does it mean?
Why is there such stigma attached to the word?
We grow up with the idea that failing is bad. To fail is to be dumb or fat or ugly. Our sense of self-worth gets tied up in the concept of winning and whether the people in our lives consider us either a success or a failure. I think, at least in part, we can blame the culture of competition that permeates our education system. Unfortunately, winning becomes the focus rather than learning, even for teachers and administrators.
Public vs. Private
Failing in private is bad enough. We struggle with internal demons that tell us how inadequate we are, how unworthy and unlovable we have become. And, because of the stigma attached, we are unwilling to share our private failures and work through them in a healthy way.
Failing in public, though, that’s even worse.
Even modest public failure can be horrific in the online age. The anonymity of the internet tends to bring out the worst in people. The opportunity for righteous indignity and outright cruelty is unprecedented. Fail big enough in public, and there will be no escaping the judgment of anonymous online hordes.
How will it affect you?
Online or not, public failure in a small community can be devastating. When someone we know well shows poor judgment or even just the perception of poor judgment, otherwise supportive communities can turn hostile. If and when it happens, what can you do? What are your choices?
In our cultural climate, it’s worth thinking about.
Who defines failure or success?
Do you allow other people to define failure for you? More importantly, is your concept of self-worth tied to what other people think about you? Are you strong enough to own up to your failures and expect others to be okay with them?
Failure is inevitable if you are living any kind of life at all. More than that, it is a vitally important part of life. Any success is dependent on failure. Failure is the foundation of learning, growth, change, inspiration, and ultimately of success.
Allow yourself to fail. You don’t have to be happy about it, but if you don’t accept it as a fact, there’s no room to move forward, no room for growth. If you refuse to accept failure, you are doomed to live the life of a Bond villain, ruthlessly eliminating people as they, inevitably, fail.
Allow other people in your life to fail, allow them the same room to grow, and you’ll be a happier person for it. If you don’t expect failure, you’ll always be surprised and even devastated by it. Expect it, prepare for it, and when it happens, you can move on without being bogged down in depression and angst.
Failing isn’t fun, but when you or someone near to you fails, allow them to fail gracefully. Don’t think less of someone because of a wrong choice or turn of fortune. Give them the chance to fix the problem and return successfully, or at least accept their apology without self-righteousness and anger.
When you become aware of personal failure, take a beat before you respond. Connect with them on some level. Try to understand where they are at the moment and put yourself in their shoes. What do they need? What would help them the most? How can you help keep their sense of self intact throughout the trials they’re going through?
Safety and Self
Of course, if someone’s “failure” is a revelation of deviance or destructive tendencies, you have to act to protect yourself and your loved ones. You can’t accept a pedophile’s “failure” and then allow them to babysit your kids. Use your head, pay attention to your intuition, and monitor your reflexive response, especially online or in public.
Allowing people to fail gracefully doesn’t mean that you have to remain part of their lives or condone their behavior. It just means that you don’t vilify someone solely for the fact of their failure.
Success at Failing
When you reexamine your attitudes toward failure and learn to accept it as part of the success process, you take a step toward enlightenment. Fear of failure is as irrational and childish as fear of the dark.