Reclaiming failure is about owning failure – making failure work for us instead of being something to fear or avoid. By understanding how failure works, and talking through tactics for changing our relationship with failure, we can learn faster, grow more, and achieve things we might not have even attempted before.
The final chapter in this Failure Judo series is perhaps the most important, as well as the most often forgotten. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in the doing, and so caught up in the push forward, that we forget the balance of life and everything. You don’t have to believe in Chinese Mythology or Eastern Religion to acknowledge the value of Yin and Yang, or the concept that life is full of opposite things that work together by pushing in opposite directions, thereby balancing each other out. In the case of our personal growth, or striving toward a goal, it is easy to get ourselves out of balance by working nonstop, pushing harder, and never stopping.
However, if this is our philosophy, we will soon find out that being “on” all the time just leads to running out of steam, falling apart, or quitting altogether. Even the most elite athletes incorporate strategic periods of rest into their most intense periods of training. Growth in our muscles only happens when we rest. Growth in our thinking often happens in periods of quiet reflection in between activity. We need the balance of opposites, the Yin and Yang of work and rest, to help us grow through failure.
Specifically, as it relates to failure and some of the tactics of failure, this rest period is what gives us the space to make those tactics happen. If we are so busy failing, or practicing, or doing what we do, then we won’t ever have the time to sit down and unpack our learning. It’s said that Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, spent hours and hours studying game footage. This is true of many of the greats, regardless of the sport or venue.
There is a time to push forward with failure, and there is a time to rest, recover, and think. If you want to be great at anything, make sure you balance the two.
“Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much”
This quote by Helen Keller says everything we need to know about community. While the buzzword “synergy” is a little (or a lot) played out in the business world, there is a reason it was so overused. That reason is simple: The synergy of a community of people with a common goal or interest or concern far surpasses the energy of the individuals in the community. Through some magic, the act of combining our energy somehow makes more energy.
If you want to magnify the value and benefit of your failures, then don’t do it alone — fail in a community. Preferably a community who is interested in whatever you are failing at. Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger coined the term “Communities of Practice” in the early 1990s. The term is broadly used to represent a group of people who engage in a community that is centered around a specific interest or practice.
I’m not ready to coin the term, “Community of Failure”, but there is legitimate value in failing with others – particularly in the company of others who have an interest in the specific domain of the failure. Here are some benefits for your consideration:
1. Moral support.
2. Learn from the failure of others (possibly one of the few things better than learning from your own failures.)
If a tree fails in the forest, and nobody is around to witness it, does it learn anything?
The value of many of life’s experiences is greatly enhanced when those experiences happen with others. This is true for fun experiences. It is true for difficult experiences. And, it is true for failures.
As learning experiences go, failures are a goldmine. However, our ability to mine these experiences is crippled if we do it in isolation. Oftentimes, the feelings and experience of failing can disrupt the clarity of our thoughts, or distort our perspectives, preventing us from the sort of analysis that we need.
Here are a few things to think about, related to recruiting a partner in failure:
1. Finding someone who has your best interests, and who wants you to succeed, is nice.
2. Someone who wants you to succeed too much might not be great, because they might be as wrapped up in the experience as you are.
3. Someone who knows what to look for, or who can be taught what to look for. Think about a professional coach — if you were an athlete, you wouldn’t ask someone off the street for feedback on your technique. You’d find a coach who knows.
4. Think about this pattern: Discuss your goals and past struggles beforehand. Do the thing. Then, discuss afterward. Repeat as necessary. (Honestly, if multiple attempts are possible in a short time frame, this is ideal, because we know that shorter feedback loops are more effective in changing behavior).
5. This principle/tool works great in conjunction with other techniques on this list.
6. Sometimes, “performing” for someone can help you succeed. Sometimes it makes it harder. Be aware of the effect this has on you, and do what you can to mitigate any negative effects.