Leaning Into Failure

Here’s a thought: what if your failures are more valuable than your successes? I’m going to guess that this idea is repulsive to you. Because, let’s face it, failure feels horrible.


But let me tell you why I love this idea: I’ve failed an awful lot. I would prefer not to say how much. But if it is true that my failures are valuable? Why, now I’m sitting on a veritable fortune! Suddenly, instead of feeling horrible about all of the times I’ve got it so very very wrong, I get to feel a little bit good.


The idea of failure having value isn’t new. We have probably all heard the story of Thomas Edison’s process relating to the invention of the light bulb. The story goes that when asked by a reporter how it felt to have failed 1,000 times, his reply was:”I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”


But as a culture, we don’t encourage failure. We seem to prefer to assign blame and find fault. As if failure isn’t painful enough, we hand our punishment and public ridicule.


I came across the idea of the lean start-up in a book called, strangely enough, The Lean Start-up by Eric Ries. It goes something like this: rather than sink a ton of money into a new business venture, create the smallest, cheapest version of it you can, get it to market quickly, see what people like and hate about it, adjust accordingly and repeat.


I loved this idea, and not just from a business perspective РI was immensely excited about how this idea applied to many many aspects of our lives. And so I was thrilled when John Krumboltz and Ryan Babineaux published their book Fail Fast, Fail Often (which I highly recommend). In it they argue that people who are happy and successful spend less time planning and more time acting, learning as they go and benefiting from experiences and opportunities that they could never have foreseen.


Here’s the thing: we should be trying out all sorts of different things, especially when we are young and have no idea which direction we want our lives to take. But also when we are older and have no idea which direction we want our lives to take. We should be experimenting. We should be treating our lives as petri dishes – observing what grows and thrives, what shrivels and dies. All too often we are making mistakes – in our choice of training course or career, in our choice of partner – and then getting married to them. We have spent so much time and so much money that to admit we were wrong just feels unbearable and so we grit our teeth and keep going.


How would it be if instead we tried it out? If we tried out lots of different things? Why not treat your life as a big laboratory in which you get to run tests and experiments, asking yourself, “Do I love this?” and making the answer to that question the sole criterion for whether you invest more of yourself into it? Why not be playful about it, be curious, be open?


The failures when they happen – which they will, because that’s the whole point of this exercise – might rock your boat but they won’t sink the ship.


And if, in the process of this experimentation, you find the thing that you would love to spend your life doing, there is going to be a way. It might not look the way you thought it would. Your lavish, five star restaurant might turn out to be a food truck. Your career as a Hollywood costume designer might translate into making steam punk clothing for your Etsy store. But I promise you this – there is always going to be a way to live your dream and do what you love.


But first you have to dare to fail.


You don’t have to do it alone. The next Transformers Program begins is September. Or if you want to start sooner or prefer to work one on one, call me.

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