How to fail successfully

We grow up being told that failure is bad and should be avoided at all costs.

In fact for a time many schools used to give prizes to all so that everyone won.

This creates a culture where failure isn’t ok.

People hide their failures.

Or worse, they stay “safe” and never take a risk in order to protect themselves from the possibility of getting it “wrong”.

Evidence has proven that a successful environment is one which encourages creativity. Yet creativity requires an element of risk, which inevitably means the odd failure. How are you meant to improve if you aren’t prepared to fail a little along the way? Catch 22 anyone?

The hard truth is that if you don’t allow for the risks in your personal and professional life, you diminish your potential and stay small.

And when you do fail? (Because you can have all the controls in place you want, there are going to be times that you will fail – it’s an unavoidable part of being human) you have zero tools for dealing with it.

No resilience*. (Why would you have? If you have never had to learn how to bounce back, chances are you will feel like a splat on the floor with no clue how to get up – and I know because I have been said splat).  

Left feeling useless with no mechanism to do anything about it. This is not a win win situation.

What if that’s all a little backwards?

What if there is a way to fail successfully that allows us to get better, to learn, to improve?

Let me introduce you to failing successfully… and in keeping with all approved ways for delivering these things, I give you 5 top tips on the subject!

*I will tackle what you can do about your resilience in another post.



1. F.A.I.L


See your perceived failures as your First Attempt In Learning (do you see what I did there?).

Think back to all of the times where you have failed in the past. What did you learn from that experience? How did it help you in the future?

When we stop being so scared of getting it wrong and see it as a potential to learn, it stops feeling quite so scary.

And when you do fail – take the time to reflect on the lessons so that you don’t repeat the same result over and over again.

If you fail as part of a team, ask for feedback and take it on board (assuming it is constructive of course).

Find the positives and the learning in every failure.


2. What is the worst that can happen?


I am sure you are great at imagining the worse case scenario, but if you aren’t have a go.

Think of the stuff you are scared to try and imagine the worst it could be. If that happened what would you do about it?

Often by doing this exercise you can see that, even if the worse case did arise, you would deal with it.

None of this stuff will kill you. It will be ok.


3. Get real


Then you need to get real with yourself, examine the evidence and determine how likely your worst case scenario actually is.

Are your thoughts real or is your brain making up elaborate stories to keep you safe? (This happens a lot – learn to distinguish the stories from the truth and you will be amazed what opportunities you open yourself up to).

What is the likely outcome? What can you do to increase the chances of that?


4. Be willing to be wrong


If you are so worried about what others will think of you if you get something wrong that it stops you from trying in the first place, this tip is for you. (This is also an entire post in itself, but ask yourself if the judgement you are fearing is really the judgement you are already placing on yourself and then do something about that.)

Most of the time people don’t really care what we are up to, they are too busy focusing on themselves. If you don’t believe me start with something safe that you can test this out with and then build up doing the scary stuff.

If you also give yourself permission to fail form time to time, when it does happen it can feel less catastrophic.


5. Remember that you are not your failures


When you fail at something, it doesn’t make you a failure. It just means you failed at something.

Keeping perspective and not taking on the burden of the failure as if it goes to the very core of who you are is important.

When you fail, you internal values do not.


What are your most successful failures? Let me know in the comments.


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