“It’s only when you risk failure that you discover things. When you play it safe, you’re not expressing the utmost of your human experience.” – Lupita Nyong’o
Picture yourself in front of two roads. The first road takes you on the same path you’ve been on. There’s very little risk but you only will know what you know today. You’ll live in the same house, you’ll have the same friends, you’ll eat the same things, you’ll do the same work, you’ll receive the same amount of money, until the end of your life. You will not experience failure on this road but will you experience success?
The second road is bumpier. There are unknowns. If you choose this path, the possibilities are endless. You have the chance to travel the world, eat extraordinary meals, learn from the greatest minds of your time, and experience tremendous joy. This road is different from the first in many ways. On this road, you experience success and you also experience failure.
Which road do you choose?
Failure can mean different things to different people. How do you define failure for yourself? Does it equate to shame and embarrassment or is it an opportunity to learn and grow?
Many of the people that we see as successful have failed. Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin brands, has failed multiple times. His top seven failures include a Virgin Cola, a Virgin online platform for selling cars, and a women’s clothing company. Despite these failures, he has a net worth of $4 billion and tells others to “not be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again.”
Oprah Winfrey was a successful talk show host for 25 years. She challenged the status quo of the television landscape by introducing things like a book club and spiritual guidance. When Oprah embarked on her next endeavor of the Oprah Winfrey Network, it was not well received. After the network turned around, she said in her 2013 Harvard commencement speech that she had been embarrassed by the network’s performance but knew she had to keep going. Oprah says, “Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping stone to greatness.”
Our brain releases cortisol when we recognize something as a failure. Cortisol is a hormone associated with stress that can impact our mood and our health.
We have options on how to look differently at failure so that we move forward, past the tough part, faster. Below are four ways to do this.
Celebrate the little wins along the way
Rather than focusing most of your time on what can be improved or be better, spend time acknowledging your progress. We overlook things in our life that, over time, can dramatically shift our trajectory for the better. However, if you’re focused on the things you don’t like or what can be better, you miss out on many amazing things! Take note of what you’re accomplishing – write them down and/or share them with a friend.
Feel it and accept it
It doesn’t feel great to fail. Let yourself feel it and set a deadline on when you’ll move on from it. In Hal Elrod’s book, The Miracle Equation, he talks about setting a timer for five minutes when he’s upset or disappointed. Over time, he’s been able to reduce the time he spends dwelling on what went wrong because he has learned that acceptance is the fastest way to move on. Accepting what is helps us move forward and do other things.
See failure as an opportunity
The Mirriam-Webster Dictionary defines failure as a “lack of success.” Are you successful in every single thing you do? I’m not. You have an option to redefine failure as an opportunity to grow and learn. If we don’t try new things and stay where we’re comfortable forever, we miss out on things that we may not see as possible today.
You’ve got mad skills
That’s right, you read that right. You are skilled at MANY things – probably more things than you realize. Trust that if you don’t get it right the first time or the second, it will eventually come together in an amazing way. If you don’t believe me, think back to a time in your life when something didn’t turn out the way you planned but better than you imagined. If you don’t have a memory like that, it’s time to have bigger goals!
I’ve felt sad and stuck and negative for many years in my life. When I shifted my focus from all the things that were wrong to the things that were going well, things changed for the better. I acknowledge that I’m a work in progress and I still have my off-times. Yet, I know for sure the things I’ve shared with you here work the more I practice.
“We need to accept that we won’t always make the right decisions, that we’ll screw up royally sometimes – understanding that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success.” – Arianna Huffington