What did you fail at today?
It’s highly unlikely that you can say nothing. You may have failed to:
- Do your exercises
- Remember to compliment your spouse or kids
- Get to a meeting on time
- Sign up that new customer
- Deal with your salesperson’s performance issue
- Get everything done on your to-do list
So let’s agree that whether we acknowledge it or not, most of us fail frequently every day. Learning from our failures is essential to human progress. From our first steps to the day we die we have an opportunity to try things, to test our abilities, to learn, to grow, to develop wisdom.
Accepting failure as a healthy, normal way of living is tougher for some than others. In her book Mindset, Carol S. Dweck Ph.D. divides us into two broad categories – those with a growth mindset and those with a fixed mindset. Those with a fixed mindset see failing as a personal affront to be defended against. Those with a growth mindset see it as a learning opportunity, a way to explore, adapt, push limits, learn, and improve.
If you have a fixed mindset, failure is a setback. It means there’s something wrong with you. You’re inadequate to the job or others are conspiring to hold you back. When you take that perspective, failure can be debilitating or even devastating. Your insecurities cause you to push back, resist feedback, look for others to blame, and rationalize why you don’t need to change.
Those with a growth mindset don’t revel in their failures, but they aren’t afraid of them. They see them as a challenge, an interesting puzzle, a learning experience, and a way to get clarity about what doesn’t work.
You probably had a growth mindset when you started your business. Do you still? Or as you approach transitioning away from your business are you more risk and failure averse, more into holding on to what you’ve got? Has failure become too scary?
But is the status quo in the best interests of your business? When I was a boy, my father used to tell me that any job worth doing is worth doing right. That made sense when he wanted me to do a thorough job of cleaning stables; however, it wasn’t a useful mantra for an entrepreneur trying something new. I’ve had to change his advice to: “Anything worth achieving is worth screwing up a few times first.” If you’re not prepared to fail, you can’t get better and you’re likely going backwards.
Advancement is more likely to happen if we lessen the fear of failure. Let’s acknowledge we need to fail in order to eventually succeed. While focusing on quick results isn’t a bad thing, the long view requires us to focus on effort as well. For just a while, start asking yourself, “What did I fail at today?” If the answer is “nothing”, plan to push further tomorrow.