The Beauty of Failure


I failed my kids.

I didn't teach my kids how to blunder well. You heard me right: I screwed up teaching my kids how to process failure. I hope you see the irony.

It's a fact: I blow it. And so do you. A broken world + broken people = Not always getting it right. But do you want to know the really good news? It's okay! Just because we fail doesn't mean we are failures!

Think about it ... we mess up in our work, our relationships, the way we manage our lives. I've burned the cookies, forgotten birthdays, waited too long to call my mom, and my check book doesn't always balance to the penny. I've had a "tone" when I answered my husband, I've eaten too much pizza, and for the umpteenth time, procrastinated cleaning the bathroom. We can blow it anywhere, any time.

Failing is easy. Learning how to process our screw-ups and walk through and beyond our mess is the hard part.

Those of us who are very conscientious and sensitive have a more difficult time dealing with the fact that we let someone down. It's also very easy to start looking inward and become critical of ourselves over our mistakes. Failure isn't fatal. Building camp around your screw-up is.

Both of my younger stepdaughters would get so upset with themselves if they ran off the rails. I tried to teach how how to offer themselves grace for being human but they were hard on themselves. And I've always been hard on myself ... and that's not really a trait I wanted to leave behind as a legacy. I'd have much rather offered them keys to resilience and let them know that if they aren't failing in something, they aren't living close enough to the edge of risk.

My youngest was frustrated after an incident at school and somehow I miraculously had the presence of mind to tell her that I loved the way she doesn't do anything half-a**ed. She was kind of bewildered at my response but I explained that when she throws herself totally into what she's doing, it takes tremendous courage. I respect and admire the courage required to jump in the deep end, never knowing if it's all going to work out in the end.

Some of the key factors that help us fail well:

  1. Be willing to put yourself out there completely. Why not? All in. A leap of faith. See if it works. And if everything flops and you look back later, you'll be able to say you gave it your all. Your failure won't be based on "I wish I had tried 100% instead of only giving 80%."

  2. Be willing to forgive yourself. Understand that you're not perfect. Treat yourself with the same encouragement, kindness, and loving honesty that you'd offer someone you really care about. Step away from punishing yourself. It doesn't accomplish anything.

  3. Recognize that failure feels like the end but it's not. It's a step. And you can choose to sit on that step or keep moving -- up or down. And taking a breather on the step is okay. Regrouping is good. Learning is good. Pitching a tent and naming a subdivision after your failure -- not so good.

When we understand resilience and are equipped with the right tools to forgive ourselves to get back up again, I believe we're positioned perfectly to learn from our mistakes and gain ground through every failure. When we fail well, we are better able to help others through their failures too.

Any time we take risks and face fear, total disaster is a potential outcome. But look at what happens when we risk and succeed, or fail and learn something new. We honestly win either way IF we're experts at failure recovery.

Picture two people: 1) someone who desperately needs to do things right, and 2) someone who is able to happily flow with either success or failure. Who do you want on your team? The first person makes me nervous because if they get assigned to my project team, now I know they will require lots of extra energy to support, might have to be talked off the ledge, and then I'll have to put her back together if anything goes wrong. Person 2 is powerful--because they already see that anything can be turned to good. THAT's the power I want to carry, model, and pass on.

Living through and beyond our failure is a form of redemption. Believing in redemption is what makes failure beautiful.

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