Failures, Screw-ups, muck-ups, f*ck-ups. We all make them—trivial ones and bigger ones. Yet if you skim through Facebook or Instagram, you'll mainly see images depicting perfection and success.
The shiny new car. The promotion. The mouth-watering dinner which looks too good not to take a picture of (I'm certainly guilty of this one). We humans can't resist sharing our successes and I'm all for celebrating our wins in life.
But I'm just curious, what stops us from celebrating our failures?
Learning From Classroom Observations
When I was 22 years old, I returned to my Secondary School as a Staff member, working as a Learning mentor supporting children with learning difficulties. On my first day, I was sent to a year 8 math lesson to support a low ability class, accompanied by a senior learning mentor to observe in action.
The Teacher gathered the class' attention and their heads turned towards the whiteboard as he began to teach. I watched on too. The teacher reached a point where he invited the students to raise their hands and answer a question. "So Class, what do you think the value of X is here?"
No response. After a few moments, a single arm in the center of the room, belonging to a girl, raised uncertainly. She whispered her answer, in a tone sounding more like a question than an answer.
"Is it 4?"
"Not quite right," muttered the teacher. "Anyone else?"
Silence. My eyes scanned the room to check the students were awake. There were signs of life, fidgeting hands, and flittering feet, but still, silence. I crouched down and whispered to this pair of students I'd spoken with before class, asking if they knew the answer. "We think it's 3," they said. They were both correct.
I crouched down again to ask them, "You both knew the right answer, what stopped you from putting your hands up and answering the question?"
"I didn't want to answer, in case I got it wrong," the girl replied as her head bowed down to the floor.
The Fear of Failure Starts From Childhood
During my time working back at my Secondary School, I heard this line, time and time again from students of all ages and abilities. "I didn't want to get it wrong." "I didn't want to make a mistake." "I'm scared to fail."
Children who were totally capable and correct, but too scared to put themselves out there in fear of failure. Over time, I had the privilege of encouraging students to be brave and raise their hands to answer questions. I can't completely capture in words how incredible it feels to see a child's confidence blossom as they give themselves to permission to fail.
I believe it's not just Children who need more encouragement to be willing to fail. Us Adults too need to realize Failure really isn't the end the world and doesn't define who we are.
Why Getting It Wrong is a Sign You're Doing Things Right
As I expressed in the title, I believe getting it wrong is really a sign of getting it right. This may seem like a totally alien concept, so let me explain.
If you've failed, you're in the game!
You're playing, you've actually taken action. This in itself is an achievement. The "failure" isn't nearly as significant as the fact that you attempted.
I think there are two types of people in life: 1) those who are playing, putting themselves out there, taking action, and (sometimes) failing, and 2) those who watch on from the sidelines, playing it safe, rarely failing but never growing.
Failure is a positive sign because we learn.
We discover what doesn't work and we can therefore avoid this strategy or behavior in the future. Failure can be a brilliant teacher! Let's say, for example, you organize a fundraising event but nobody shows up. Looking back, you can analyze what contributed towards the result.
Was it the location? Was it the pricing? Was it the marketing? Only a 'failure' can offer such perspective.
As Steve Jobs said, "You can only join the dots looking backward, not forwards."
Failure doesn't have to be this heavy, shameful experience. Failing is part of what makes us human, and I pray for a day we celebrate our failures as much as our successes.
What is most important is not what happens but what meaningyou give to what happened. Next time you seemingly get it wrong, ask yourself how can you view it as a sign of getting it right.
Image credit: Stephanie Birch