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Home > Audio, Podcast > Failure is a constant, and welcome, companion in our work

Failure is a constant, and welcome, companion in our work

March 28th, 2008

Career Opportunities podcast logoFailure is a constant, and welcome, companion in our work

[audio:http://welchwrite.com/career/audio/2008/career-op-20080328.mp3]

Listen: Failure is a constant, and welcome, companion in our work

Failure is a constant, and welcome, companion in our work
by Douglas E. Welch

When we think of failure, we typically feel guilty and ashamed. Certainly failure is nothing to be proud of and yet we face failure every moment of every day so it is something we must learn to handle. Failure is part of life in large ways and small. If we allow ourselves to feel ashamed or embarrassed about failure, we will soon find ourselves mired in the bog of mediocrity, afraid to do anything for fear that we might fail, and even worse, that others might see our failures.

With failure being so ubiquitous, is seems silly that we try to avoid it or hide it when it happens. I would challenge you to find anyone who hasn’t failed dozens of time in the last 24 hours. Perhaps they pushed the door marked “Pull”, or forgot something in the house they had to retrieve before they left for work, or bought the wrong product at the store. Still, we feel that others judge our failures harshly, no matter how small. Think of your embarrassment when you trip over a crack in the sidewalk, You immediately look around to see who noticed…to see who is judging you. What part of our unevolved lizard brain does this come from? How much harm does it do?

When it comes to your work and your career, a fear of failure can lead you directly to the spot you are trying to avoid – more failure. In a vicious cycle you start to avoid failure by only doing things you do well, which limits your opportunities for advancement and makes you even more fearful of losing what you have gained. Repeat this over and over and you find yourself unemployed because someone else…someone who isn’t afraid of failure…has developed new methods and skills that greatly outdistance yours.

I know you must be thinking, “but if I fail all the time, won’t they fire me for being so incompetent?” If you did nothing but fail, you might have something to worry about, but it is a rare person who doesn’t succeed in something. In another perverse paradox, those who fail frequently succeed even more frequently. Our ability to embrace failure, both small and large, allows us to create. If we don’t see failure as an end, but a beginning, it is a force that can drive us on to greater things. Thomas Edison is often quoted as saying, when asked by a journalist how it felt to have failed 9,999 times to create the light bulb, Edison replied “”I haven’t failed, I have had great success, finding 9,999 ways that do not work.” Anyone who can say that is a true master of failure. He is allowing failure to teach him without engaging in the judgment of self-worth. Failure is something that happens. You learn from each failure and move on – and sometimes learning to move on after a failure is the epitome of success.

Thomas Edison is often quoted as saying, when asked by a journalist how it felt to have failed 9,999 times to create the light bulb, Edison replied “”I haven’t failed, I have had great success, finding 9,999 ways that do not work.”

Think of a baby learning to walk. It fails much more than it succeeds and yet it continues to try. There is some inborn understanding that walking will be more useful than crawling. When we are engaged in a task we can feel the same pull dragging us forward. We know there is a better way, if only we can find it. Of course, in order to get there, we must wallow through the fields of failure, learning where to step and where to avoid, until we reach the other side. What good would it do to stop in the middle of the swamp?

So, if fear of failure is slowing your career, what can you do? First, you have to DO something. You have to take one small step on the road to a larger project, whether it is personal or work-related. If you have to, hide away while you take these first baby steps on your project. If you feel the world is judging you harshly, do your work in secret. As you start to see some small success on your project, you will start to see that successes begin to far outweigh the failures, In fact, you will see that each success is carried on the back of many failures. Without the wrong answers the failures provided you, you would have never found the right answers…or even the right questions to ask.

As you see more success in your work, start to show your successes to your closest friends and co-workers – people who can be trusted to celebrate your successes and not focus on the failures that led there. In this way, you gain confidence step-by-step until you gain your own trust that successes far surpass failures and that failures are a necessary requirement , an integral part of any success. With this new-found knowledge you will be ready to move forward in your life and your career, secure in the understanding that failure is a constant and welcome companion in your life and your work.


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