The Other F Word: Failure

What happens when your plans don't play out exactly as you hoped? We've all been there. Failure is a dirty word, the other F word. We don't always like to admit to it, but failure is a part of the process.

At my fitness convention a couple of weeks ago, a presenter offered this way to look a failure:

1. Failure as a confirmation to quit.
2. Failure as a process to keep learning and to achieve your goals. 

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While the point of the presentation was to look at failure as an opportunity to build resiliency, I think that failure as confirmation to quit can also be acceptable. Yes, we shouldn't give up on the path to our dreams, but sometimes we are not on the right path.

You don't read about real failure a lot, after all, admitting personal failure on the Internet is hard to do.

When people talk about personal failure, it's usually about overcoming a perceived failure. They are success stories in disguise. They typically end with some inspiring story about how about failure caused them to learn and grow and ultimately become a better person. Now that's an easier story to tell. I've told that one myself, and I may be telling it now.

I read a blog post about failure where the writer described not studying for a class in her senior year of college and faced the potential failure of the course and not graduating. She goes on to explain how in the last hour she studied day and night and squeaked by with a barely passing grade that allowed her to graduate on time, and now she has a fantastic high-powered job that is well-deserved.

That's not a failure. Failure would be studying your ass off all semester and then still failing the class and graduating a semester late, or not at all.

Another post described failure as a lay-off from a dream job due to company cutbacks. The writer lamented that she felt like a failure because she was a college graduate and was forced to be under-employed and accept work as an administrative assistant. Of course, the blog post ended with her finding an even better job, with a higher salary, after growing personally from her so-called failure.

Again, not a failure. Being laid off by no fault of your own, and temporarily taking a job that you feel is beneath you is not a failure. I get that it can feel like one. 

Many years ago I had an experience in my corporate career that left me feeling like a failure because I wasn't good enough, despite my best efforts. I gave in to stress and overwhelm. I gave up. When it was over, there were no second chances or comebacks. I fell flat on my face. The end...or so I thought.

I didn't know how to handle it because I was digging deep for the life lessons in my failure and I couldn't find any. How did it cause me to grow? What did I learn? I struggled because I walked away from it as a failure but didn't have an over-coming failure story to go with it. There wasn't a happy ending, a lesson or an opportunity to grow. I just failed.

I wasn't even failing right. I was a failure at failing. Failing as long as you learn from it is ok. I struggled to find my lesson.

That was in 2013, and all these years later, I saw a post on Instagram that sparked closure to my story, and now, finally, I realize why I failed.

I failed because I wasn't on the right path. If I wouldn't have failed, I may have climbed the wrong ladder, made more money, with a higher-level position, with more responsibility, more stress, and further away from my real purpose.

That was not my path. If I hadn't failed, I might never have done the hard soul searching to figure out what I want out of life. I would have continued to follow the path that was laid out in front of me instead of forging my own way. I wouldn't be here today with this blog, this coaching, and personal training business.

That failure led me to taking a leap that I never would have had the courage to do if I had been successful. You know how they say, take the leap and the parachute will appear? Well, I don't recommend it to the risk-adverse, but that is exactly what happened to me. I jumped because my current situation was so painful that it was my only option.

I realize now that when I was looking for the life lesson in my failure and asking myself what could I have done differently, the only answer that ever came up was, "not do it in the first place."

It wasn't that I needed to learn what I could have done differently, it was that I needed to come to realize that career wasn't the one that aligns with my values or lights my soul on fire.

I failed. It was my fault. I didn't have what it took, because my light needed to shine somewhere else. I couldn't see it at the time, but the lesson was that I failed because I wasn't on the right path. I had to fail to find my way in this world. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. There was something bigger and better waiting for me, I just had to have the courage to go after it.

So I guess this is another success story disguised as a failure. My story is a not a wealth or fame success story, but the success of leading the type of life that I choose to live. My failure was a confirmation to quit something that wasn't working for me.

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How has failure changed you? Have you failed lately?

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