The Failure Journey
I call my son the perfection of an imperfect journey. There is no phrase that better describes how I feel about being his mom and the journey that we have taken together. Most would believe that getting pregnant at sixteen would be a failure too great to overcome; but that’s the thing about failure, it’s temporary. The only aspects of failure that are permanent are the lessons you learn or the new journey you get to take because of it. I am grateful that at such a young age and with such a large and public failure of teenage existence, I gained perspective of the world and of our journey through this life. I gained so much love, determination and an unwavering focus from what was clearly an unplanned, dare I say mistake in my life. From a very young age, I was given the secret to success. I learned that failure is a ride and not a destination. I learned that we can ride failure into the future in one of two ways: we can ride it towards success or we can ride it to nowhere. The same failures can get us to very different places depending on what we do with them. In the same vein, often the wave we are riding feels like failure and is merely a detour to lesson-ville.
You won’t hear me say that I don’t fail or that failure doesn’t exist outside of our minds. It does. I believe I have failed and I am sure I will fail again. What I know about failure is that while it does exist, our understanding of what it means for us is the only way we can understand whether we are failing or not. I was given the gift of learning perceived failure very early in life. Even the most insurmountable mistake did not equate to an insurmountable failure. As a result, I have journeyed through life with a little less pressure around failure. I recognize that it is temporary, and I define failure in a very narrow way for myself as a result. I will try almost anything because I do not fear the permanency of failure.
As I write this, I am planted smack in the middle of some major transitions in my life. I am scared to death of some of the changes I am willingly choosing. I am even scared that my choices will take my life from being successful to failure overnight. And then I remind myself of what success and failure mean to me. Years ago, before taking the job at Comcast, I wrote down what failure would look like. The answer had nothing to do with how I performed at the job and everything to do with how my family adjusted to the change. Would I work too many hours? Would I get lost in a job that was more demanding than my old? Would the dynamics of the household change in ways that were not in line with my value set? If the answer to these questions was yes, the I was truly risking failure. The reality is that once I realized what failure would look like, I realized I could control those outcomes. I realized that failure meant something very different than I had been spinning on. I realized that the choice was easier once I knew what failure looked like for me. Now, I simplify success and failure at every turn and with every decision I need to make. I am doing it now with the choices and transitions I have in front me.
This week reflecting on failure has been hard for me because of the current state of flux some key areas of my life are in. I write this as a reminder to myself and to all of you to remember that to fear failure is to be human. To be paralyzed by your fear is the same as deciding you can never take a bath again because you once burnt yourself with hot water. Failure, even when true for us, is temporary. And even better, failure is often not what we initially convince ourselves it will be.
Homework: Write down a decision you have been facing. Write down what success and failure look like if you make the decision. Decide whether the outcomes of failure are within your control or not. If you feel like you can control the outcomes, make the call. If you feel like you can’t control the outcomes, get more information and then make the call.