Leaders know something about claiming their power in the midst of failure that that other people don’t seem to grasp. When it comes to handling failure, leaders are a lot like babies.
Have you ever wondered what makes failure so difficult for most grownups? It’s not that hard for babies and kids—they fail at stuff every single day. And most of the time they’re having a blast doing it.
Could it be that the experience of failure is so painful for us because of the meaning we give it?
The funny thing is that we weren’t born this way. Think about any baby you’ve ever seen, trying to take her first step. Does she get it right the first time? Of course not. Yet how do all the adults around her respond when she falls right on her butt after that first attempt?
With applause and cheering!
That’s how babies learn to do everything: with cheering and applause and celebration of their attempts. No one is giving them a hard time when they don’t do everything perfectly the very first time—-no one expects it of them.
As someone who’s experienced a greater amount of failure in life than I care to remember—in jobs, in relationships, in creativity, to name but a few things—I’ve been able to explore failure from the inside. And I’ve come to realize that all that failure gave me exactly what I needed to create the success I experience now.
All that failure also taught me a process for success that I pass on to my clients all the time. Today seems like the perfect time to pass it on to you.
You won’t be surprised that there are three steps:
1. Choose Your “Failure” Role Models
Every famous person throughout history is someone who has created his or her own meaning for failure. (All you have to do is Google “famous people who failed at first” to see what I mean.)
Despite rejecting labels from others, these people decided what their negative experience meant to them and what it meant for their life.
Claim Your Power: Leaders define their own experience. Try deciding for yourself what your experience means for you. What if this “failure” is exactly the same as a baby falling down after her first step? What would change for you if you clapped and cheered for yourself in the midst of your next failure—-and then moved right into your next step towards your success, just like you did when you were a baby?
2. Choose Empowering Beliefs
Your beliefs are the filters to your experience. What you believe about failure will affect the way you experience it. People believe that babies are learning, and so it’s totally OK if they fail at new things at first—-in fact, they expect babies and children to fail first before they succeed.
So what happens to you when you believe that the very first time you do something new you should do it perfectly, without any help from anyone? Or what if you believe that if you want something bad enough and work hard enough for it, everything should work out for you? Although these beliefs may be outside of your awareness, they set you up for a miserable experience of failure. Although circumstances can be totally random, our beliefs are completely within our control.
Claim Your Power: Leaders choose Empowering Beliefs. Three beliefs that have helped me for decades are the same ones that my clients say have helped them, too. Try these out for yourself: When you believe that you bring about what you think about, it helps you to keep your thoughts focused on what you want. When you believe that you have what it takes, it’s easier to take your failures as learning opportunities. And when you believe that there’s a gift in every obstacle, it makes it easier to focus on the gift you’ll get out of the experience when failures happen.
3. Remain Curious—Ask Yourself: What IF…?
Remember when you were little and you always wanted to know why? It was a very cool game we played; every answer got another “why?” It’s actually a very skillful way of learning that children all over the world are geniuses at practicing.
For many of us, that practice of asking questions got trained out of us in school, where we learned that the teacher was the one who asks the questions. Our job was to know the answers—-and some of us got really great at that. Some of us have even decided that we have to know the answers all the time—-like we’re engaged in some big cosmic game show where knowing all the answers is how we win. Failure is particularly painful when it feels like you’re losing in public.
Claim Your Power: Leaders look for Possibilities. The question “what if?” turns your brain to a highly creative idea machine. This question can change your experience in the blink of an eye. Try these “what if” questions—-and make up some more of your own: What if…this failure is simply a springboard for your next success? What if you were following the footsteps of Colonel Sanders or the Wright Brothers, or Oprah Winfrey, or Steve Jobs? What if this failure has something important to teach you that you can’t learn any other way? See what happens when you ask yourself a different question about your “failure.’
Now that you’ve got these three strategies, put them into practice with your next “failure.” Like every leader out there knows, you won’t have to wait very long…