The Failure Game
How many quotes about failure can you recite? ‘Failure is not an option’. ‘He who dares wins’. ‘You only fail when you stop trying’. The list goes on… These quotes are motivating for about as long as it takes to read them. If we are honest they do little to dispel our fear of failure.
We have been designed and raised on a system of winning and losing. From the cradle to the grave it is all about survival of the fittest.
The rules of engagement are ever changing and schizophrenic in nature. We set ourselves targets that we have to be the best… have the best and only be seen with the best. The best is defined by whatever is trending. Someone decides that ‘orange is the new black’ and just when we’ve become accustomed to that… they change it and tell us that ‘blue is the new black’. My friend’s hairdresser told her that ‘fake is the new real’. How ridiculous… but we buy into it hook, line and sinker.
From the moment we can conceptualise and internalise the misery of what it means to fail… the whistle blows and we are off. Trying to get noticed….trying to get somewhere… trying to be someone. We are not sure what success means…we are not even sure if success is all it’s cracked up to be…all we are know is we must not fail. So instead of playing to win we play…so as not to fail.
Failure is the other dirty f word. To fail is an admission that you are not fit for purpose. You are a figure to be pitied. To fail is to lose your footing…your status… in the rat race… in the scramble to the top. If we fail we feel ashamed. We may get ridiculed. It’s not a bundle of fun this failure malarkey.
Part of the game set up is to indoctrinate us with ideas that if we do not succeed in the world in the way that success is defined then we are nothing. The ideas of winning and losing are reinforced through competition. We are raised on competition. We are taught to be competitive. We learn through a system of praise. If we do well we are rewarded with lots of goodies and accolades. We get approval by winning. If we lose we are labelled and laughed at. Gentle nudges of encouragement in nursey school give way to stronger messages in high school turn into out and out tactics and dirty tricks as the stakes get higher in the boardrooms across the land. We are informed that there isn’t a lot of room at the top. Only a chosen few make it to the top and if you want to make it you need to go out and get it…whatever it takes! You have to work hard and follow the rules. There some of the rules: 1) Keep your cards very close to your chest so that people do not steal your ideas or game plan. 2) Do not talk about your plans or others will sabotage them. 3) Pretend that you do not care about succeeding so competitors stay away from the scent. 4) Compare yourself on a regular basis to others to see how you measure up…who’s got the better job…nicer house…more expensive car…fitter body…best good looking partner…smarter children.
Changing the game
The problem with the failure game is that it is stress inducing. Anything which is not in our nature will create tension in the body. Because we have this warped relationship with failure we interpret the stress we feel as the symptoms of failing. You feel bad because you’ve failed. No! You feel bad because you do not understand failure. To fail is normal and natural. It is part of living. Somethings grow and prosper…somethings don’t. People live and people die. It’s all part of the nature of things.
Failure is part of success not the opposite of success.
Failure is a process. There is a wonderful line given by Thomas Edison after he had failed and failed to deliver the light bulb. He just said. “I have not failed I have just found 1000 ways that won’t work” What a refreshing way to look at failure. This is failure in its truest form. It is about self-discovery and about play. Continuous improvement. It never competitive. Edison was as excited about the journey as he was about the result.
Failure is feedback. The feedback is the information we should be taking on board and not the opinions of others. The feedback tells us: What we need to adjust. If our timing is right. Whether we need to acquire more skills. What we can learn from the mistakes. What to do next? Henry Ford put it like this: “Failure is just an opportunity to start again but more intelligently”.
Failure is learning. The failure game is built on competition. If you stop playing the game then the game will have no hold on you. You play at your on pace. You play by your own rules. Make failing fun… fail often.