Thursday, March 23, 2006

What is Failing?

I've been thinking recently about failure (whatever that is). As a recovering perfectionist, failure is not something I've been familiar with, at least not in the traditional sense.

When I was younger I would make sure I didn't undertake any new endeavor unless I was sure I would be good at it. I studied for tests to get the "right" answers, but didn't really learn much that really stuck. I acted the way I thought others wanted me to because that was the "right" thing to do.

OK, it's time for true confessions here: In the past year I've had up close and personal experience with what the world would call failure.

As I've become more and more interested in topics and subjects that cause me to go deeper into myself and to figure out this bug called "Jodee," I've become less interested in what is "right" and what is "wrong." I'm very interested in questions and in finding the answers to the questions myself instead of quoting someone else. I'm not that good at it yet, mind you - it's taken me all my life to get where I am; I'm not going to alter that overnight - but this insight has proven to be really interesting to me.

So I decided to get certified in a certain training program, which I knew involved a testing process. And when it came time to take the test, I failed. I was crushed. I don't fail! I've never failed at anything!

And then it occurred to me that the reason I failed is because I am at the point in my own personal development where I want to learn things that are applicable to me - things that I can learn and process and formulate and apply in my work and life. I failed the certification because it was an oral exam, and I had to answer the questions the way the questioner wanted them answered. I had put in too much of my own knowledge and experience and it wasn't the way the program had the information set up.

It took me a whole year to muster up the gumption to re-study and re-take the test, but on the second try, I did pass because I knew how the questioner wanted the questions answered. It was a breakthrough for me because I knew what I was doing - and I knew why I was doing it. The world still wants us to have certifications - framed certificates - proof that we "passed." But for me that framed certificate meant much more than all the other certificates I've "earned" in the past. I had "failed" by the world's expectations, but I had "succeeded" by being true to my own beliefs.

It gave me a whole new perspective on high school education and its practical applicability for today's students. No wonder so many of them are disinterested. Our education has been set up to stuff information in to kids' heads, not to let it out.

Here's a line from the book The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie:

To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil's soul. To Miss Mackay it is a putting in of something that is not there, and that is not what I call education. I call it intrusion.

That gives me a whole new perspective.

What does it mean to fail? If I would have hung up that testing process when I "failed" on the first attempt, that would have been true failure. Because I tried again, I got the certification, and am now able to present this program - with my own spin, which I hope will help the training stick for people in whatever way works not for me - or for the program - but for them. I would never have had that perspective unless I had been there myself, and I know it makes me a more empathetic and effective instructor.


At 7:39 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I adore that quote.
My favourite saying re failure is 'The only failure is a failure to participate' from a course I did a long time ago called 'Money and You'. I have thought about it a lot and I believe it to be very true.

At 5:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for that story Jodee. It's great that you stuck to it and congratulations on the certification!!

I would say that the only failure is not to learn from a situation (good or bad). Anything you learn from is almost by definition not a failure.

I would like to offer a quote from Harpo Marx's wonderful autobiography, which starts with these words:

I don’t know whether my life has been a success or a failure. But not having any anxiety about becoming one instead of the other, and just taking things as they come along, I’ve had a lot of extra time to enjoy life.

Harpo's book Harpo Speaks is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read. He may have dropped out of school in the 2nd grade but he was wise.

At 2:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of my "Landmark" friends told me: If you're not managing from failure, you're not playing a big enough game. That's the flag that you are winning. So play big and fail big!! Bock On!

At 11:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Taking risks and failing is something that has been so discouraged in our society that many folks are immobilized by the fear of failing. I notice this is gradually changing though. Coaches such as you who talk about distinctions like "riskful thinking" vs. "wishful thinking" are making things better!

Barbra Sundquist, IAC-CC
Certified Mentor Coach

Connecting you with your life coach

At 1:09 PM, Blogger Greg said...

Interesting perspective and observations Jodee, especially your statement "I do not fail." Why not?

In grade school I was told by a counsellor that I had an 'inferiority complex'. I will tell you that all I heard was the word 'inferior'.

My greatest fear came true - there was something 'wrong' with me and I was different.

Since those school days, I have come to know failure as a good, necessary thing. I now view failure as simply feedback, on how I am doing in reaching my goals.

The truth is that Pass and Fail are subjective, arbitrary determinations, academic inventions designed to measure performance or compliance to a predetermined set of standards. That's cool.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way we have come to assign Pass as 'good' and Fail as 'bad'.

We grow up wanting to be good boys and girls we learned that when we 'perform' and 'pass' we are accepted and when we fail it is 'bad' and when we were rebuffed, rejected, or ridiculed our self-esteem took a major blow.

If you look up the dictionary meaning of the word fail, it states "be unsuccessful in achieving one's goal" and I will admit that there have been many times that I did not achieve my goal and it hurt.

So why is it such a big deal?

As individuals we have assigned negative emotional meaning to the word 'fail' and unfortunately many talented, competent, and knowledgeable people suffer from Performance Based Anxiety seeking that defining Performance Based Acceptance. Therein lies the trap, acceptance.

The great lesson in life is that we first must learn to accept, love, and appreciate ourselves otherwise we will remain attached to our acceptance umbilical cord and addicted to external praise and acceptance.

A Thinking Virus

I clearly remember my 32nd birthday. Partly because my older brother died at 32 and also because of another major milestone - I realized I was trapped in a cycle of people pleasing and thought recycling. I can remember saying to myself, "Greg, do you have a single original thought in your head?"

My answer angered me because the truth was I was so addicted to 'Performance Based Acceptance' that I stopped thinking for myself. Why? Because back in grade school when I accepted on the 'inferior' label I interpreted it to mean that I was somehow lower in rank or status.

That is when I gave up on myself and stopped trying. What I did not know was that this then developed into a full fledge thinking virus aka 'fear of failure'.

Failure is Part of the Creative Process

What does it mean to be creative? I think it means "To create something original that creates value."

Failure is part of the creative process because the process of creating something original is complex. It is fraught with mistakes, errors, and failures which will lead to success but only if we learn from them.

I love what Thomas Alva Edison said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." and "There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking." and "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."

One of my new favorite quotations from Edison is "Hell, there are no rules here-- we're trying to accomplish something."

Today I am proud to report that when I do not get what I want I just pick myself up and try again and again until I get my goal - I refuse to give up and quit.

In fact, I am going to create a manifesto called the "The Business Owners Guide to Overcoming Fear of Failure"

At 2:46 PM, Blogger Jodee Bock said...

Wow Greg, this is some seriously great stuff! I, too, have a big interest in the topic of failure - I'll be looking forward to seeing your manifesto - let me know if I can support you in any way! Thanks so much for these profound ideas!


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