I am fascinated by failure. I see the power it holds over my clients on a daily basis and the way it can continually cripple the lives my clients envision for themselves. It lurks around every corner and in every crevice discovered on our journeys.
I’ve toyed with the idea of creating a failure club where people get together to support one another in practicing failure. I want a future where failure is minimized and given it’s appropriate size in the equation of our lives - enough to be an alarm but not enough to stop traffic.
Logically, we can find evidence that failure can be the catalyst for something great, but when it’s our lives face to face with the looming threat of failure, we are blinded by negative energy. We expect failure so much that when the brave do leap and meet success, they are found in a situation they hadn’t imagined within the tunnel vision of failure. We create a situation for ourselves where nothing feels like a win.
I recently read an interview with John Donahue, the former CEO of eBay, in which he highlighted the following story told by his former boss at Bain where his career began.
A gifted young baseball player played Little League through college ball, hitting an average of nine out of 10 pitches. Now, taking his first at-bat in the Major League, he was wracked with anxiety that he would fail.
The fact is, Donahoe’s boss said, hitting .900 in the Major League is impossible. The best baseball players in history are lucky to hit .350 — they miss two out of three swings. They sometimes strike out in a crucial moment, costing their team the victory. They drop balls, make bad plays, and disappoint their fans.
The difference, Donahoe’s boss said, is that world-class baseball players wake up every game day ready to swing the bat.
What happens when we don’t show up to swing? When we let the simple idea of failure stand in the way of taking the actions that are steps in the direction towards the lives we want?
One of the cornerstones of the Co-Active Coaching model, where I received my training, is that people are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole. The risk of abandoning this cornerstone is far too high as a coach. When failure enters the arena it suffocates this cornerstone.
We risk dimming our natural desire to think and express ourselves creatively by crafting a life designed for us by others. We shut down ideas as soon as they arise because it’s too painful to dream of something we cannot have because we develop an immediate certainty that we will fail. It becomes painful to think big so we actively chose to think small.
We seek opportunities that limit our need to be resourceful. We play it safe and willingly stay within the confines of the boxes created with the messages we’ve received from others. Doing so blinds us to our ability to stretch ourselves and robs us of the opportunity to test the range of what is possible for us. We cease our calling to innovate in the ways in which we solve problems and the tools we acquire to do so.
Lastly, we never grant ourselves the gift of seeing ourselves as whole humans because we have opted to leave a hole for the space reserved for the things we don’t explore. We let the idea of failure define our action rather than the full range of feasible outcomes. We turn our backs on aspects of ourselves that we yearn to bring forward and instead lead lives as part of the picture of who we want to be in the world.
What would you do today if you could hold the perspective that you were naturally creative, resourceful and whole? What is your fear of failure telling you?
What are you stopping short of doing for fear of failing?