We all fail, even those who seem to “have it made.” Today’s triumph can turn into tomorrow’s dud.
The brilliant author whose debut novel rises to the top of the New York Times bestseller list may follow up that effort with a second novel whose very pages the critics suggest are of a better use for wrapping cod. The baseball pitcher, who pitched a no-hitter on Tuesday, may get “shelled” on Friday. The hilarious stand-up comedian who made the audience roar with laughter yesterday in Pittsburgh, may “bomb” tonight in Buffalo.
The mere mortal level your boss may have loved your proposal on the “Smith account,” to have hated what you did on the “Jones account.” You are terrified of trying again for fear of a bad review.
Perhaps you fancy yourself as an outstanding interior designer. You decided to paint an accent wall in the dining room. The paint store had a color that looked wonderful on the little chip called “Gentle River Yellow Plum.” You bought a gallon and painted the day before Thanksgiving. It dried to New York City taxicab yellow. Twenty-seven relatives laughed for three hours at your lack of color sense. Uncle Ed and Aunt Martha wore sunglasses at the table.
Been There, Done That
The author, a professional baseball player, or stand-up comedian is almost the same as you, save for one key difference. In working diligently at their professions, in practicing their crafts for years, they have accepted and even embraced the idea that they will fail from time to time. They have failed before and have recovered.
When a failure of any kind hits most of us, we are usually devastated. I am not minimizing how badly it hurts, only that it is so unexpected, it may take days – if not months and years to recover from it. Professionals don’t have the time to flounder in failure.
If a baseball pitcher or comedian has a tragic personal setback, it badly hurts (they are not robots!), but on a professional level, there is the knowledge that if something went wrong that it can be fixed. Fixing may require specific adjustments, be it better editing, improving the mechanics of delivery of a curveball, or working on better writing material.
The “failure club” is part of the human condition, and everyone belongs to it at one point or another. It can cripple us if we allow it to overwhelm our thinking, or we can learn, practice, and recover.
However, we must understand something important before leaping again: the fear of failing is often more consuming than the failure itself.
Failure is Part of the Process
The professional knows that their fear of failure if allowed to grow to gigantic proportion, will cripple them. It is why they so often rely on the input of their coaches, agents, and mentors. The coach will work with the pitcher to correct the delivery; the agent will explore why the editor might have made certain edits that detracted from the manuscript, the comedian will work with equals to better hone the material they delivered onstage.
Chances are high, that whoever is working with the professional will not let them descent into fears of failure. They will be knowledgeable enough to impart an essential piece of advice: welcome the failure, for it will allow you to improve.
They will reinforce that the professional has talent, incredible skill, and will rise above the most recent problems. They will improve. The person who mentors the professional will make sure that the failure was only a learning experience and that with practice, it can be overcome. They will recover from being even better.
The employee who failed on a work project can turn it into a triumph if they seek out the reason for the failure, consult with people they trust, and accept positive reinforcement and meaningful advice. The worst thing to do when failure calls is to turn within and close off from the possibility of improvement.
Putting “Gentle River Yellow Plum” on the wall was not the failure. The failure was in neglecting to paint a small area with sample paint, or in not consulting with the experts at the paint store as to how interior paint dries.
Everyone fails, and it is what we do with that failure that counts. Failure makes us stronger. Adversity teaches us and makes us better. Do not fear failure; accept the gifts it may sometimes bring. Fear kills more dreams than failure.