This post was originally published in the fall of 2018. A recent conversation with a colleague made me think of it, and it still seems relevant!
Most of the people I coach have a horror of failure. They are leaders who look for the next achievement, personally and professionally. They have a lot of accomplishments to celebrate, and they’re not too keen on failing.
If you asked them, “What are some uses of failure? Why do we need to fail sometimes?,” I’m sure they could give you good answers. Their answers might look like this: “Oh, I tell my teams it’s important to make mistakes because you learn from them. I set them up to do things on their own where they might fail in a controlled atmosphere, where I can help them.”
But if you say, “What about you? What’s something you need to fail at in order to grow?,” you can watch their bodies tense up and their brains spin, coming up with all the reasons why that’s not such a good idea. Failure can be really scary. It can feel like we won’t recover from it.
When you lift weights, sometimes you “go to failure.” That means you go until you can’t go anymore. You add weight until you have surpassed the maximum your body can move, and then you drop it. You “fail the lift.” Everyone in the gym knows that this is the assignment—you go until you fail. The failure is the point. It’s literally how you get stronger.
How can we find places to practice failing, getting it wrong, making mistakes? We know it’s good for us, but like so many things, we avoid it because it’s scary.
Where can you go to failure? What might be on the other side?