Question: Dear Michelle, do you ever fail?
Seeing what you have created motivates me, but I am scared to fail.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘Of course. I fail at something weekly at least. Failure got me here.’
This question came from a retreat guest. I had just told them how I manifested the farm and retreat centre even while I did not believe I could. Initially I believed that this dream could not come true in this lifetime. It took a near-death experience and a radical change of mind, but when it started to unfold, everything fell into place – but with failures and challenges along the way. Seeing only the end result of my process and not the messy middle, he asked, ‘Everything fell into place for you, but do you ever fail?’
Failure is something to be avoided, I always thought, an unintended consequence of not getting something right. And if I did fail, I definitely wasn’t ready to shout it out to the world. I actively blocked out of my mind some of the big things that happened that were definite failures. We lost money to dodgy workmen, hired the wrong companies, and so got the wrong results. I employed the wrong people, kept some people on for far too long when I should have let them go, said yes to people I should have said a Hard No to.
When asked if I ever failed, I was happy to admit to it because of course I fail and it’s a normal human thing, but I still had this internal drive to avoid failure and always try to get things right.
“Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”
~ Winston Churchill
Let’s Fail Faster
It was by accident that I changed the way I think about failure. I was listening to a podcast with Steven Bartlett, and he said in his company they try to accelerate the failure rate. He explained that the faster they experiment and fail, the faster they will arrive at the successful outcome that will put them ahead of their competitors. In his view, as long as they keep failing faster than their competitors, they will stay ahead in the game.
WAIT – STOP THE BUS!
This blew my mind.
We should actively seek out failure and not pretend it didn’t happen?
When I dived deeper into this idea and discovered two things:
1. It feels very scary
2. It’s also a quite freeing
Clinging with Nervous Fingers onto The Cliff Edge
Looking for ways to fail takes courage and indicates a certain recklessness that is much easier said than done. Clinging with nervous fingers onto the cliff edge, you ask, “How would that work?”
It is much easier to accept that you can and should fail, when you are simply experimenting. If you approach the Big Decisions with the idea that it is an experiment, you take measures up front to make it possible to change course if you need to. You build into the experiment the safety measures that help you to pivot to a new experiment. Start experimenting with the small things – try a new flavour that you have not tried before, experiment with saying no to a small thing… and build the experiment muscle.
The goal of experimenting is learning. When we see it doesn’t work, we learn and move on. When we fail however, it feels way worse, and we dwell in the failure feeling so deeply that we can’t see the value in the lessons. We start to believe that the failure mode is who we are, when all that is happened is a successful experiment.
“Dream big and dare to fail.”
~ Norman Vaughan
Shaking your Hair Back and Laughing into the Wind
Giving yourself permission to fail and learn and fail some more is just like driving in a convertible on a gorgeous cliff drive. Picture yourself as Jane Bond in an Aston Martin with the wind in your hair and exhilarated laughter pouring forth. So freeing!
Lightness is Your New Normal
You don’t have to get it right all the time – you can give yourself permission to do more and take risks. The key here is taking action. The inertia brought on by fear of failure no longer needs to hold you back.
Always showing a perfectly happy and perfectly crafted version of ourselves to the world is one of the things we are most prompted to do today, and it is one of the drivers of fear of failure. We just don’t want to try something we think we will suck at. As you experiment and fail, and fearlessly share this with others, you spread the magic. Giving people an example of how to fail and grow, sharing your vulnerability, you inspire greatly.