Finding Refreshment in Failure

The best recovery from failure is the full and complete acknowledgment of it and the motivation to keep trying. It’s incredibly refreshing to be around people who can do this.

Timothy R. Clark, The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety

So true, right? It’s liberating and even fun to fall flat in the learning process when joined by others who celebrate our fail-forward learning and then generously (with comic relief) share their missteps.

My bathroom has a couple of framed quotes as reminders: 

✨ Leap and the net will appear.
✨ Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

Indeed, courage over comfort is what breaks open possibility, passion and purpose. Because survival is built upon adaptation, not the status quo. To embrace failure, others’ and our own, is the only way forward.

But it takes a village of support, yes? We don’t go this route alone.

Our External World

To move from surviving to thriving, and to create environments of psychological safety, we need cultures of rewarded vulnerability. We need to feel it’s safe to take interpersonal risks and that when we do, we will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes. 

As leaders (formal and informal) and managers, we create reciprocity and openness by going first and sharing our vulnerability in a fail-forward communication exchange.

For example:  

1. We admit fallibility and acknowledge temporary incompetence
2. We welcome failure not as the exception to the rule but as the way forward.
3. Our words and actions demonstrate that failure is a currency of success.
4. We provide reassurance that discouragement comes before the discovery.

How does this work for you? Do you engage in this reciprocity? Even if those above you do not? 

Taking These Risks is Risky!

Our brain knows it, too. The large, ancient and primitive part of our brain is wired to perceive danger – always on alert. As a result, our brains often can’t tell the difference between a real threat to our physical survival and a threat to our ego (!).

So how do we create environments of rewarded vulnerability when life and situations are far from perfect and challenge our confidence and belonging? 

In Our Internal World

In this excellent, animated and short video Locating Yourself – A Key to Conscious Leadership, the authors posit that we are either above the line or below the line (with our primitive brain) at any point in time. Thus, the first step in a conscious shift is to locate ourselves along the line. Above the line, we are open, curious and committed to learning. Below the line, we are closed, defensive and stuck in our old stories.    
It’s a pretty miserable place, below the line. We become convinced that we are without choices. We lose touch with our resourcefulness and forget that there are many ways to perceive a situation, even if we can’t change it. 
It gets particularly hard when we’re in this place of guarded vulnerability in both our internal and external worlds. 

My Rescue Remedy

When I need a personal intervention—fast—when I’m spiraling down the dark hole and cringing at my words and actions, and when old voices roar:
You will never be able to manage ________
You will never be able to change  ________
You will never have a sense of control over  ______
I make a practice to grab hold of that looping thought and yank it (triumphantly) into the light, exclaiming (with slightly exaggerated exuberance): 

Well done! You feel like a fool and this means you’re learning!

I’m serious. I really do this.

I’ve created a list in Word with recent and awkward ouches and clumsy learning experiences. Each gets a gold star as I list them. As corny as it might sound, I encourage you to try this. You might be surprised at how quickly the sting dissipates as you read the list. And, then, there’s the diamond in the rough learning that emerges from the experience.

Sometimes this rescue remedy is just enough to lift me up and above the line, back into fresh air and refreshment.

It’s a practice of commitment to resonant action over and over again. And, yes, this means discomfort is the price of a meaningful life.

But when we get friendly with this place, and share it with others, it is so darn refreshing. It cools and soothes the soul in our ongoing learning and growth.

Here’s to your refreshing failures – I’m right there with you!

And so is everyone else 👍🏼. #inittogether

Scroll to Top