How to Fail Well

I know what you’re probably thinking. Why would I want to be good at failing? But of course that is not what I mean here…

Failure is hard, but failing well and knowing what to do with my failure is really to me the greatest contribution to my succeeding.

I have failed and know I will continue to fail from time to time in my life. It feels really terrible at the time but that feeling of recognition when I uncover the root cause to the failure and take action to resolve it is sometimes more gratifying than my eventual success. This is really just the ability to struggle well when hitting a brick wall – to figure out a solution to get over, under, or through the obstacle. Failure will continue to happen in some form throughout one’s life so you may as well learn what to do when it happens to you.

I suppose really looking yourself in the mirror and I know it’s an expression but literally talking through a process to handle failure to make a change to a mirror is a powerful thing to do.

To me there’s a few types of failure:

  1. Failure due to something that you personally did. It could be for example trying something new and failing to succeed the first time. I believe that is the easiest form of failure because the good news is that you have complete control over changing it as it is related to your actions to reflect and persist through trial and error.
  2. The second one is something that you didn’t do. This one to me is a little harder as it can be challenging to try to know what you don’t know or see something in the moment that could have led to success. However, through experience these types of failure become less and less as you branch out, learn from that experience, and refine your action.
  3. The third is failure due to someone else’s action or inaction. For me this one is even harder because while I can influence and forecast other’s action I don’t have direct control which can be a hard reality to face. However, having faith in others, communicating well, and develop detailed mutual action plans is really the only way to overcome this type of failure.

Developing a habit of self reflection upon failure is really the only way that you’re going to get the wheel spinning back towards success. Record that self reflection on video with a webcam where you can see yourself as if you are reporting to yourself and coaching yourself through the problem. You have to get your thoughts out of your head where they can be evaluated in a more objective way. Focus on a process of reflection of failure as opposed to looping over the failure event itself.

This process would consist of:
1. Defining the problem in as specific and detailed way as possible.
2. Define the goal which is the opposite of your problem
3. List a sequence of events that transpired to cause failure and list the sequence of events that would need to transpire to meet your goal.
4. Identify the point in your failure sequence that you need to change
5. Iterate on your new action plan again

In pursuit of goals I find myself failing again and again but struggling well in a cycle of acting reflecting and acting again will ultimately get me the most out of life.

If you really think about it the most intelligent people are great at iterating through failures relentlessly on the path to success. They are naturally curious and don’t see failure but rather just alternative paths. See the iterative process as an experiment and just have fun on the journey instead of being so fixated on the end result. Additionally, when you focus on other people and the impact you have in improving their life you will not be so concerned about your own personal failures. So, this point makes trying again a little easier at least for me.

If you don’t die from your immediate experience then anything between now and then you can figure out. Think about your current failure problem like a scientist that is experimenting. Create a hypothesis.  Little by little make changes based on results of trial and error. Think about life like an experiment where you are curious to explore all the possibilities just to see what will happen in each.

I have been and likely will continue at times to be a failure, but that’s okay because I know that eventually I will succeed if I just explore all the paths. The only true failure is fearing it so much that I do nothing.

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