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Why are we so determined to see failure as a bad thing?

Published on July, 22nd 2018
By Greg Wells

It seems like everywhere I go, there is talk about the importance of failure – its role in growth, building resilience, driving success, connecting people and ensuring we raise adjusted and confident kids. I’m all in on the conversation. But I have a question: why are we so resistant to seeing failure as a positive thing?

Even a cursory glance at the role of failure illustrates that it can have enormous value.

Look at hugely successful people. Invariably, they will say that before they got it right, they got it colossally wrong. And they will point out that they were able to capitalize on those failures because they saw them as a gift, not a curse. Take elite athletes. They didn’t get to the top of their sport by competing against people they could beat. They pushed themselves to the limit so that they failed – again and again. Then they used the information and experience from those setbacks to get better – until they were the best. Or look at relationships. Every strong bond I know of, whether it is professional or personal, got that way with the help of some kind of conflict, misunderstanding and tension. Colliding with each other and then sorting out what happened is an essential part of solidifying a partnership.

Somehow, we have to get rid of our underlying belief that failure is embarrassing, a sign of weakness, or an indication that we are not cut out to succeed.

To think differently, we have to embrace – deeply and fully – the idea that there is no way to achieve your potential if you don’t put yourself in situations where you will fail and then do it with gusto.

We have to reframe failure as an essential ingredient in growth.

In particular, I think leaders, coaches, teachers and parents have to change the failure narrative. It’s up to us to create an environment where our employees, players, students and children feel safe. They need to know we will not hammer them if they falter. That not only is it okay to leap and fall short, it is the only way to go. Otherwise, they will always be paralyzed by negative thinking about their ability.

I also think that everyone in a position of influence needs to model positive responses to failure. Don’t cover up your miscues. Don’t act like all is well. Be up front and honest when you get it right and when you get it wrong. Show everyone who relies on you that setbacks and less than ideal performances are embraced. Show them how to grow.

I hope you enjoyed this article!

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