Written by Christi Hegstad Ph.D.
Founder of MAP Professional Development Inc.
Does failure – or the fear of it – hold you back? If so, it’s time to rethink how you view failure.
I recall reading an interview about Sarah Blakely, creator of Spanx and the youngest self-made female billionaire in the U.S. Her rise to business success is both entertaining and inspiring, but what struck me most was a simple question her father would ask each evening at the dinner table:
What did you fail at today?
And he was disappointed if Sarah or her brother had no answer.
Because failure is a key component of success. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying anything new, you’re not stepping out of your comfort zone, you’re not periodically venturing on the lesser-known path.
I cannot give you a single example of a successful person who never failed. Oprah Winfrey – fired from her newscasting job and told she wasn’t made for TV. Michael Jordan – cut from his high school basketball team due to lack of talent. The creators of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series – endured 150 (!) rejections before one publisher was willing to take a chance.
To name just a few.
We all can likely think of examples, however, of people who let their fear of failure hold them back.
I fail constantly. When I think back to some of my early class offerings, I can’t help but remember all the times we had to cancel due to lack of interest. While speaking in front of groups I have tripped, misspoke, lost my train of thought. My printing shop called me a while back to tell me I had spelled my own name wrong on the cover of 200 workbooks they were printing for me.
I fail often, I fail big, but whenever I can, I try to fail forward.
The title of this article is actually inaccurate. Although I’ve failed thousands (millions? billions?) of times, I am not a failure.
Failure is an event, not a person, not a life path.
And for me, as long as I’ve honored my core values and purpose, staying true to who I am, failure is no longer the devastating deal it once was (a big statement for a recovering perfectionist!).
How about you? If fear of failure holds you back, I encourage you to take 3 actions:
1. Redefine failure. If you grow from the experience, can you even count it as failure? Create a definition that frees you from fear’s grips.
2. Surround yourself with inspiring examples of courage. If you haven’t already, enroll for Spark – you’ll be amazed at the courageous people you will encounter! Also consider your friend groups, online connections, reading material, and other sources.
3. Fail at something today. Go ahead, try something new and give yourself permission to do it poorly. Then, debrief: What did you learn? How can you use that experience going forward? How will you grow from – or help others grow from – it?