While failure is generally looked down upon in our society, it is truly a great barometer of life success.
Most of us grow up with subliminal and explicit signals that views failure as a bad thing. There are many people responsible for developing this thought to us. Our parents, loved ones, friends, teachers, and general media have all negatively contributed to this.
In my case, the reality of failure was something I wasn’t able to accept or digest. It was unnerving. But, every time I accepted failure – even in its littlest forms – it provided a foundation to move ahead and ensure growth.
I’m writing this post because I feel most of us are stuck in a rut. A rut isn’t just for people who aren’t performing well in jobs or financially (which is what the term rut is meant to imply); it’s for all of us who aren’t performing to our best level.
And ultimately, this is what failure should be defined as: not living up to your highest potential. Whether this is professionally, personally, in our relationships, spiritually, or in a myriad of other ways. The desire to remain status quo is strong in many of us.
So why are many of us so afraid to fail?
We’ve been hard wired to feel embarrassed when we fail at something. The thought of being judged, talked about or laughed at is enough to keep us at bay.
Success in Milestones
One of the most inspiring stories I’ve read about failure is Sara Blakely’s. If you don’t know that name, you should: she’s one of the youngest people to become a billionaire. She cites failure as a reason for her success.
A journalist at Bloomberg asked her the following question. Her answer is telling.
Because I failed the LSAT. Basically, if I had not failed, I'd have been a lawyer and there would be no Spanx. I think failure is nothing more than life's way of nudging you that you are off course. My attitude to failure is not attached to outcome, but in not trying. It is liberating. Most people attach failure to something not working out or how people perceive you. This way, it is about answering to yourself.
In another interview she did with CNBC, she mentioned how her father always asked her what she had failed at every week.
In short, if we can set realistic milestones for ourselves as indicators of success, we too can strive to achieve something tangible every single day. The key is to be accountable to ourselves.
Our leaders will always judge what we’re achieving successfully and failing at, but it’s important you collaborate with them to ensure that you don’t come to work every day feeling like you haven’t achieved anything.
The Real Life Application
There are certain people who are good at this naturally but I know most of us aren’t. Here are some practical ideas to start this process.
Set one single goal every day that’s achievable in a realistic amount of time. This could be an entire task from beginning to end, or meeting a milestone as a part of a larger task/project.
Schedule time in your calendar to achieve this task. For those of you that read my productivity blog about the Pomodoro time management technique, you can apply that here.
Execute the task. If it takes longer than you had originally thought, make note of it.
FYI: if you’re looking for some great tools to track time, there’s always Excel/Google spreadsheets or if you’re looking for something more robust, check out Toggl.
It’s remarkable how many of us don’t schedule things correctly. Productivity gurus often say that the best way to overcome failure is with action. Good, consistent action can crush goals and make you feel like a million bucks every day.
I’d recommend even applying this dead-simple 3-step process every single day, even on the weekends. If you feel lousy for not doing the dishes or the laundry, put it on your list and execute.
Overall, challenge yourself by asking what you want to do (realistically) in a certain amount of time that’ll make you feel like you’re in total charge and control. Live up to that expectation.
The Bottom Line
When embraced as a positive change agent, failure is a remarkable event to hold yourself accountable to anything life throws at you.