Learning To Be Comfortable With Failure


Ending this week talking about failure, I hope you’ll forgive me, I think it’ll be worth it. We all spend so much time thinking about success: what it looks like for us, what it looks like for other people, etc. Personally, I’ve been thinking a lot about failure these past couple of weeks, primarily because I’ve been failing over and over again. I recently reflected on the fact that in my life, I’ve failed exponentially more than I’ve succeeded. So much so, that I don’t believe I would have even come close to the growth I needed to succeed without all those failures.

Recently, I had a week where I completely failed at everything I put my mind to. I was overwhelmed, under resourced, and in need of 50 hour days just to accomplish everything I needed to get done. I had completely over-committed myself, said yes when I should’ve said no, and treated every single task as though it was my top priority. When you’re used to over-delivering, it’s scary to find yourself in the situation where you’re only able to give 50%. I had a great talk with a friend the following Monday and that’s when things got real.

First, I let myself be vulnerable and realistic about my failures. Second, I stopped being hard on myself. Internalizing failure can lead to self-deprecation, lack of motivation, and everything else that happens in the place where dreams go to die. Third, I got real with my prioritization and made the tough decision to let go things that were taking away time from the most important goals.

I’ve been quoting Angela Duckworth’s book ‘Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance‘ like crazy recently and I love that she speaks a lot to the importance of failure and how failing is actually integral to success. It’s the secret sauce. Without even the possibility of failure, we never actually have to overcome anything.  When there are no obstacles in the way, we never develop any grit – the ability to keep pushing and be resilient. Ultimately, if you never experience failure, you’ll never experience success. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“…grit grows as we figure out our life philosophy, learn to dust ourselves off after rejection and disappointment, and learn to tell the difference between low-level goals that should be abandoned quickly and higher-level goals that demand more tenacity. The maturation story is that we develop the capacity for long-term passion and perseverance as we get older.”

“I learned a lesson I’d never forget. The lesson was that, when you have setbacks and failures, you can’t overreact to them.”

I’m completely fine being transparent with my failures, because hiding behind the facade of success is misleading. My failure is constant, as a Program Manager, sometimes I fail at major things all the time: like working on a project for months and getting the “go back and start again”. It’s Friday, and I’m about to walk into a meeting where I’ll likely feel like I’ve failed after it’s all said and done. I’m not going to glorify the feeling, it hurts. But I know that my future success will depend so much on my ability to process failure correctly. I’m owning these failures, getting really cozy and comfortable with that feeling, so I can utilize it and learn from it.

Fail, brush yourself off, pick yourself up, grow, build, succeed. And then, repeat. Because that’s how life goes.