Reframing Failure for Empowerment

Failure for most people is something to be avoided.  It’s painful.  Most people do anything they can to avoid pain.  Pretty much since birth society tells us that failure is to be avoided.  There are many reasons why, but to me it’s summed up most succinctly by our evolution as both a species and as a society.  Back in the beginning man needed a highly developed sense of fear in order to stay alive.  There were numerous predators and food was difficult to come by.  As a result ancient man needed to always be aware of his environment so that he could be safe.  As man developed and became stronger and moved to the top of the food chain, that highly developed sense of fear became less of a requirement.  However, it didn’t really leave.  As man’s brain developed from something primitive that’s sole purpose was keeping us alive and societies began to form there was still an urge at a core level to react to fear.


As much as I want to address failure, I must first address fear.  Fear is the biggest reason that most people avoid failure.  Fear is the root cause of everything negative.  We are driven by two emotions; love and fear.  Love gives us the good stuff and fear keeps us from doing the things that lead to the good stuff.  Failure and the fear of it can be overcome.


Here are some reasons that I believe people avoid failure.


The belief that failure is final.  Once a failure, always a failure.  No one ever said “I want to be a failure when I grow up.”  Everybody wants to win and succeed.  But most people view failure as permanent.  They view past failures as evidence that they are a failure and will always be a failure.  They don’t want to experience the emotions that failure brings, so instead of going after goals they do nothing and stay where they are which is the ultimate failure.


People buy into the ego.  Ego is all about the self.  It builds an identity.  Ego stop wants to keep us from having our identity challenged.  When our identity is threatened the ego feels threatened and it will do anything to maintain the status quo.  Ego is simply the story we tell ourselves, it’s not the Truth.  Ego wants to look good.  It wants to be admired and have all of the answers.  Ego doesn’t want to admit that it doesn’t know something.  Ego prevents us from taking any action that will potentially redefine our identity.  Ego does not permit room for personal growth and development.  Growth and development only are possible when we move beyond our comfort zones.  Ego refuses to leave the comfort zone.


Society teaches us to avoid failure.  We are taught to fit in with everyone else.  We are taught that we need to follow a specific path like religious beliefs, education and career paths, even what sports teams to root for.  The part that’s messed up about this is that the people who influenced us thought they were coming from a place of love.  They thought that by telling us not to explore our boundaries or to question what we were taught that they were keeping us safe.  Real love would have encouraged us to do things that were painful because real love wants the other person to grow and develop.


The simple fact is that if we want to grow as an individual failure is a must.  By its very definition growth is an expansion and expansion cannot occur if there is confinement.  In this case that confinement is mental.  It’s our limiting belief system that tells us things like “I’m not good enough”.


If you are committed to cultivating a growth mindset you’ll need to reframe how you view failure.  Reframing things will allow you to see them in a different light.  When you see things differently you’ll be apt to spread your wings and go for whatever it is you’re going for.


Here are four ways to reframe failure so that it serves you and you are empowered by it.


1) Failure is not an indictment of you.


Failure, and any challenge that you face is just a temporary situation.  Choosing to believe that failure is an event makes it easier to keep trying.  Believing that you are a failure on the other hand is going to keep you down.


2) Failure is feedback.


Failure is simply learning a way NOT to do something.  When asked about inventing the lightbulb Thomas Edison is supposed to have said “I have not failed, I have found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  There are many reasons for failure.  Perhaps the timing was wrong.  Perhaps there was some knowledge we were missing.  Maybe we were missing some resource.  When failure is viewed as feedback we can look for what we need to change so that next time we will achieve it.  Viewing failure as feedback can provide excitement that you’re one step closer to making it happen.  It can create enthusiasm that progress is being made, that you’re narrowing the gap on your journey.  Feedback can give us direction on what approach we need to take on our next attempt.


3) Choose your response.


It’s said that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we respond to it.  Circumstances happen in everyone’s life.  The magic lies in our interpretation of those circumstances.  Do we respond to the circumstance or do we react to it?  This is a very important distinction.  Let’s first look at the word react.  Have you ever been to the doctor and had them break out the rubber hammer and hit your knee?  What happens?  Your leg immediately jerks forward in an uncontrolled reaction.  Reaction to circumstances are uncontrolled.  Reaction is automatically following our existing programming.  When the car in the next lane cuts you off do you lose your cool and yell at the other driver?  Do you give them the finger?  Do you ride tailgate letting them know you’re not happy with them?  If so, that’s your programming on display.


What if you chose another response?  What if you decided to let it go?  What if you decided not to tailgate?  What if you expressed gratitude that there wasn’t an accident?  Those are examples of responding to the circumstance of being cut off.  Responding instead of reacting opens up the possibility for different results.  Responding allows you to create space for your desired results.


4) Be grateful


Every failure is an opportunity if you look for it.  Look for reasons why you can accomplish it successfully next time instead of alibis for why you can’t.  Be grateful that you figured out a way you can’t do it instead of whining.  Be grateful that you learned a lesson from the failure.  Apply the lessons you’ve learned so that you close the gap and ultimately achieve what you’re going for.


The takeaway I want you to leave with is when you experience failure as described you’ll be able to get dramatic results.  Ask any successful person why they’re successful and they’ll be able to share plenty of times they’ve failed.  Think about it.  How are you going to get good at something and become successful?  Experience.  Where do you think experience comes from?  It comes from doing.  By doing you’re going to get it wrong until you get it right.  Successful people have gotten it wrong a lot.  They’ll tell you that the reason they are where they are is because they failed a lot.


That brings me to the final point of this post.  If you want to be successful you’re going to have to fail forward, and do it fast.  Fail forward fast means that you take action, fail, make adjustments, fail, and make more adjustments until you get it right.  The faster that you’re able to do that, the faster and greater your success will be.  Make the choice today and embrace failure.  The more you embrace failure, the more action you will take and the more success you will have!