Yep, you read that right. Failing.
It sounds wrong to want to fail. Most of us spend our whole lives avoiding failure. Tiptoeing around to make sure we never make a mistake or screw up.
The thing is, while this strategy might avoid problems on a day-to-day basis, it’s setting you up for a mediocre career. Never failing means never taking risks. It means staying inside of the box. Going the safe route. Holding back.
How much success do you think comes out of this kind of strategy? Sure, you avoid embarrassment and you don’t have to stress about really putting yourself out there, but you’re also drastically limiting your potential.
Recently I was speaking with Gordon Ching, a 21-year old who is VP of Marketing and Communications for AIESEC Canada, a 2400-member organization spanning 30 universities. Gordon explained that he feels his generation is particularly failure-averse, a risk in and of itself given many of the world’s most successful people credit their career advancement with their openness to failure. Gordon, on the other hand, claims multiple failures already – willingly. He notes the elections he’s lost all the way from elementary school to university, but also the learning he got from those elections and how the experience led to bigger and better things. Wise beyond his years, I’m telling you!
So, have you been living a failure-phobic life? Well there’s no reason you have to continue. Here are a few suggestions to get you going:
– Commit – publicly – to a big, ambitious goal. This forces you to take chances and go for it, whatever ‘it’ might be.
– Have a ‘growth mindset’. Learn from your mistakes. Don’t dwell on them, but don’t ignore them either. Figure out why something bombed, and then you’re a lot less likely to let it happen again.
– Position projects or initiatives as ‘experiments’. Be upfront about the fact you’re trying something new and different. Experiments aren’t all expected to succeed, but there’s merit and learning that comes from them regardless of the outcome.
– Focus on what’s in your ‘locus of control’, and not on what isn’t. You can agonize about how many things can go wrong, but that’s especially unproductive when you can’t influence these factors. Keep your energy on what you can control.
– Be accountable when things go wrong. Don’t skirt responsibility and pretend it wasn’t your fault. Own the work – whether it’s totally successful or if it’s an epic failure. Admitting that you screwed up is a real strength precisely because it’s so difficult.
Lots of this comes down to grit or resilience, the kind of jargon-y words that HR people always throw around (including yours truly) ;) The thing is, whenever everything’s going well, work’s pretty easy. Your projects go to plan, the clients pay you compliments, your boss is happy. So the real test is obviously when things start to go sour. You take a risk and it doesn’t exactly pay off. What happens next is what matters most.
I honestly believe that the amount of risk you take is equal to the amount of learning and success you’ll have. For every big win, there are going to be a bunch more flops. So start flopping more, and every flop will take you closer to your next critical turning point.