Failure? - join the club!

"Screwing up is not your special skill"

"Screwing up is not your special skill" Failure. Now there’s a word that can instigate strong emotions.

Currently the fail I am waiting for is a good one, I’m strength training with the Stronglifts app (highly recommend) and as such when I start to fail I know that’s when I will start to grow much more in strength.

However had you mentioned failing when I was, say, doing my MSc dissertation, then that would have had an absolutely different impact on me. After 8 months of methodologically searching and reading over 100 medical articles to create an evidence based mechanism picture and write 15,000 words, I did not want to
fail. In fact I couldn’t even bear the thought of that possibility. (Ironically perhaps, it was on anxiety...)

And that was just the future possibility of failing...

An example of actually living failing, might be that time I experienced the apparent inability to pick up the correct file I needed for court that morning so found myself going in to face the magistrates feeling blind (and berating myself). Alternatively, how, when I failed to accurately predict that the district judge would feel a need to sending my client to prison, this led to the attempted self-soothing activity of spending too much money on new suits.

Thinking back, my first ever (remembered) experience of failure was that stomach dropping moment when I realised I had lost my purse with my holiday spending money (a total of £5 in shiny 20 pences). I was so upset. I told myself that I had let my parents down, my grandparents (who gave me the money), my younger siblings, and myself - as I knew that meant I couldn't be trusted with anything ever again... okay yes I was like 8 or something but that feeling... ohhh it is not nice and it doesnt get any nicer as you get older. The next one I remember is failing a test. Now, I was 17/18years old and tests thus far had been easy and I always did well, passing wasn't really an issue. So the feeling of returning home after failing my driving test for the second time was awful. The thoughts that I clearly wasn't meant to do it, that I didn't want to do it again, that I didnt want anyone to find out...

It's funny how those teenage thoughts and the 8 year old ones are pretty much the same as the ones most of us have as fully fledged adults... like the thinking doesn't grow up or something...

I did take my test again but swapped driving instructor for the mandatory lesson prior to the test itself due to realising (once I had let the beat-me-up thinking go) that I needed to change something and worked out what it might be. I then passed easily and actually enjoyed chatting to the assessing instructor whilst doing so!

I spoke with someone a while ago who had their flat application fail the day before they and their young son were due to move. Stress, frustration, panic and anxiety followed. Thereafter they widened their frame- they looked outside the box they had set their sights on and in fact ended up in a much bigger and nicer apartment.

Someone else once mentioned (in passing, as if it was common thinking!) that after they failed they actually felt much better as the repercussions they had envisioned had not occurred. Which obviously reminded me that we aren’t actually all that good at predicting the future.

There is also that saying, 'no failure only feedback'. Yes. But only if we can change our frame or perspective to leave the predictions/expectations behind and see the bigger picture to allow for what that 'failure' has made room for.

Sometimes it’s not immediately apparent due to the required shift in view. But then we will find that the
strength training theory is correct - failure allows massive growth. Growth of experience, knowledge, and understanding, as well as mental, emotional, and physical resilience.

So, let's work this out...


Something has gone wrong/I have failed/I wish I could hide or go back in time

Mind worm:

I should've realised that would have happened and somehow avoided it. What a bloody idiot.

Past stories:

I should know better than to try. I know better than to do it like that. Nothing goes right for me. Nothing is easy. Who was I to even think that I could have done that? Why did I do it like that? What possessed me?!

Mind reading:

Everyone knows about it. And if they don't yet, they will do soon. Oh they are going to be whispering and laughing about me. I will be forever used as an example of what not to do.

Why did I even tell them I was going to do it in the first place? They are going to pity me - oh I can't bear to imagine seeing the sympathy in their eyes.

Predicting the future:

Well this has just taught me that I can't do that. I need to stay where I am and not do anything new or 'stupid' again. I want to hide away and stay nice and safe.

What if they fire me?! What if I am used as the next example case study in the L&D workshops? What
if my mum/dad/partner finds out - they'll realise how much of a failure I am.

First, lets subtract the shit:

So usually the reason we step into that growth stretchy bit in the first place is because something prompted us to move out of our comfort zone, it could be a hearts desire or a vision, something exciting, something that spiked your ambition and drive. Or it could be that the comfort zone has just reached your capacity for repetition and now it is eye-scratch-out-ingly boring.

The stretchy bit is all about feedback and learning (hence why its stretchy 'cos it makes us grow). So, just for a moment or two, let go of the shit thoughts (you won't need me to tell you which ones I mean, they are the ones that make you feel awful) and give yourself a breather from them.

This quote from Jen Sincero's book* may help with perspective here:

“You have screwed up in the past. You will screw up again. Every human is born with the ability to make spectacular mistakes. You are not alone, screwing up is not your special skill. Get over it.”


Magic wand time:

Now you have a slightly clearer head, think about why you did the thing you did. What did you want to achieve? What would that have got for you? If you struggle, use the magic wand and consider:

If you could have controlled the outcome in its entirety what would that ultimate outcome have been? What would that have given you?

Now this can be anything from 'freedom to hand my notice in' to 'more time at home with my kids' or even 'more sleep'.

Experiment :

So now you have your 'why' look back at the 'screw up' and consider it objectively, like it was someone elses life or you are a fly on the wall. What do you see in it that you would wish that person to recognise as learning to take forward? Would it be a slight tweak in the system or a whole new perspective which is now more aligned with the 'why' goal?



*In case you are interested in reading Jen Sincero's book it is called "You are a Badass". I got it from Amazon. It has at its core widely respected personal development foundations and her writing style, humour, and up-front-ness (if that’s even a word) make the book easy to read, the messages very easy to understand, and the advice then easier to take on board.