What if executives did a whole series on their screw-ups and failures? What if social media had less “ta-da” and highlighted more reality? What if teachers shared more about their own vulnerabilities with students? We tend to put our successes on display more than our efforts that bombed. But it’s the failures that teach us the most and what can teach others, too. It normalizes it and instead of instilling fear of it happening.
I’d love to see a series just like that. So honest and naked you’re in awe. And I don’t mean a kind of self-punishment that ends with people confessing themselves as a failure. I’m talking about the embarrassing stuff that still stings a bit years later but forced that person to go in a direction that is now working.
No one becomes successful without a good face plant. I didn’t learn how to ski at age 31 until I had at least ten epic yard sales and a collection of bruises that would make a ten-year-old skateboarder jealous.
Admitting failure is an act of letting go of your own facade, reflecting on a learning moment that often propels us to success.
I used to do a presentation called Women Supporting Women in Business. It was an enormously popular presentation and I loved doing it. In that presentation, I tell a story about how I treated and shunned someone early on at an agency who was trying to help me. Only I couldn’t see it. Her conservative brooks brothers personality put me off at first.
When she was promoted I was steaming mad, ranted, and raved until my mad ran out. Fortunately, I did this in a closed and secluded environment. Maybe I had made a mistake and needed to give the relationship another go? Then I paused, reflected, and used a technique to follow an action that was opposite of how I felt. This is actually called opposite action.
I loved telling that story because I could get very animated and it illustrated a turning point for me. That instead of fighting someone of my own gender, I needed to figure out a way to work together.
I needed to understand what made everyone else think she was amazing then hitch my wagon on her trailer and work together to achieve success. Not alone but as a team. Prior to that, things were not working well because we weren’t working well together. Let me rephrase that. Because I wasn’t working well with her.
After that, we became a powerful team and I saw the value in meeting and accepting people as they were and how to pause and consider opposite action especially as it relates to anger. Because the knee-jerk action due to that emotion is almost always one you shouldn’t take. I learned to look for the best qualities, and my art form was figuring out how to work well with whomever I was partnered with. That’s when my career started to take off.
Our kids need to know these stories. Business people need to know these stories. Students need teachers to set expectations that failure is OK because that’s where the learning happens.
This is what builds resilience and problem-solving skills. And giving examples helps people find those answers.