I think I can, I think I can…but what if I can’t?

by | 23rd March, 2014 | failure, thoughts on business

What would you do if you knew you could not fail? Oh pllleaasssse……I simply cannot get my head around this question. Is it supposed to be inspiring? Challenging? It certainly isn’t grounded in any sense of reality for me  because we all fail at times. Seems easier  to accept that fact and embrace failure rather than blindly ignore it. To not fail every day is simply not realistic. Here’s some examples:

  • Late getting out of bed – fail.
  • No milk in the fridge for a morning coffee – fail.
  • Late for work – fail.
  • Project doesn’t get approval at work – fail.
  • Argument with partner – fail.
  • Child in trouble at school – fail.
  • Forget to pay electricity bill – fail.

The difference is to what degree we let our failures affect us. Not having milk in the house may be easy to cope with unless it sparks a major row with your partner that you stew about all day, for example. Added to that is our willingness to identify true failure. Sure, the lack of milk started the morning argument, but in all honesty, is that the real reason the fight started?

It was my inability to accept my version of failure that lead to my break down through back in 2011. I  was clinging on to the idea that entrepreneurs are tough, resilient, capable, extremely intelligent and invincible. When I caught myself crying on the way to work, or sitting outside my office in my car trying to reapply makeup that had washed away I told myself “get it together, you’re tougher than this – you can do this”. I had never failed before in my career, and I didn’t have a coping mechanism to even recognise failure. All I had were strategies from my past that had enabled me to succeed and they weren’t working.

I had always believed that if you truly wanted something, and worked hard enough, it would be yours. If I put my mind to something, believed in it, it would eventuate. I’ve recently read Sally Obermeder’s book, Never Stop Believing. Sally is an amazing, inspiring breast cancer survivor and in the book she explains the sense of guilt she initially felt about having cancer. She works through this and realises that cancer just happens to all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. Failure is the same. It just happens.

We need to reframe the original question at the top of this post. This is what we need to see:

failure is inevitableBack in 2011 I didn’t want to face the idea of failure. Although I felt I was the only person who had ever failed (most small business owners facing business failure will tell you their main feeling is a sense of isolation) I was most certainly not alone. People stay in bad relationships rather than admit they failed, they stay in jobs they don’t like rather than admit failure, for example. What would have happenned though if I simply hadn’t cared about failure?

This is a tough question because it implies a sense of vanity to the fear of failure. You know, the fear of what others will think if they realise I am not achieving all they (and I) believed I could. This is partially correct – there is a fear of judgement I think. The other part though is a fear of confusion about yourself. How will I know who I am as a person if I can’t measure myself against _____ (slot any situation in here). For me, that was my biggest fear. In the context of work I was an achiever – who was I if I felt I was failing in this area? More importantly, why did this matter?? If you find yourself staying in a situation that you secretly know is going to fail, the key question to ask yourself is “why are you still in it?” Why do you care so much about failing?

This question is so important because failure is an experience that falls outside of the actual event. It’s not about the lack of milk in the fridge, the bad relationships, the poor sales results. It’s about how deeply you care about failing in the first place. Last week on facebook I posted that failure is an event, not a person. This is absolutely true but the problem is so many of us remain invested in the failed experience to the point where past experience clouds future decisions. I’m all for learning from our mistakes, but if this leads to a sense of cynicism and fear then we clearly haven’t processed a positive experience around failure.

It’s about the paradox of allowing vulnerability to give you strength. More about that next week…