Change your perception of failure

February 26th, 2018

Written by Katy Winship

In the wise words of the now deceased movie star, Jack Lemmon “Failure seldom stops you, what stops you is the fear of failure” but how do you stop the fear? Is fear of failure holding you back?

Failure is not always a bad thing

From childhood we are taught that failure is bad- we are told that if we fail exams we will be held back and not be successful. I would argue that it’s simply not true- just because someone is not academic, it doesn’t mean that they will not be successful in other aspects of their lives. As a matter of fact, often, academics are known for not being able to handle other aspects of their lives well, lacking essential life skills, communication skills and general common sense.This might be why Smith college, Massachusetts has launched a new initiative called “failing well”. It has been put in place to get students used to the concept of failing. It’s about stopping the fear of failure and addressing the inability to ask for help.

Perceptions of failure varies

How we perceive failure might be down to your global location. For example, Japan has stigma attached to failure- to fail is taboo. A survey in 2014 of Japanese entrepreneurs said that 55% admitted they were afraid of failure.However, in the United States risk is admired and it is common to talk about overcoming failure in job interviews.

Your attitude to failure may also have something to do with how you were brought up. Did your parents say to you “you can be whatever you want to be” and encourage you to reach for the stars and follow your dreams or did they say “oh no, that’s a bit risky- what if you fail?” and discouraged you to take risks in anything too competitive such as acting or sports? Your perception of failure is relative to your experiences of failure.

Risks- should we take them?

If there are financial risk implications then yes, you should worry. If people’s lives and emotions are at risk then yes you should worry. You shouldn’t take risks with these things.
But business; everyone knows that in business the best leaders have taken risks, for example, did you know that Bill Gates dropped out of college to start Microsoft? Had his business not taken off the ground then perhaps he wouldn’t be a household name but he would know that at least he tried with something he was passionate about.

Change your mind-set

Don’t be put off starting something you think might be difficult because you’re afraid of failing- after all, both failure and success is proof that you tried.

Fear of failure - why is it that we can’t we handle it? Is fear of failure about self-esteem?

Consider those contestants that star in TV dating show Take Me Out- do you think they’re scared of rejection and failing to gain a date? In my opinion they must have skin as thick as a rhinoceros- how must those ones feel when all their potential dates reject them? I imagine they don’t let it affect them dating-wise; they just brush off themselves, take it on the chin and carry on looking for love (or other ways to find a free holiday)!

What if we were to approach failure like those contestants do- let’s not be scared of losing, failing, being rejected- our worries just wouldn’t get in the way of trying something new.

Learn that admitting defeat is OK

When you fail at something that you have given your all to it can be the most upsetting and frustrating thing in the world, but sometimes it’s smart just to take a step back and say “hey, it’s OK, maybe I’m not meant to do this”. So what, you might have spent a lot of time and effort on it but walking away might actually be the smartest thing to do.

Does your expectation meet the reality of what you thought it was going to be? Take me for example; I trained for years to work in a career that I thought would be different (not my current one of course). It’s smart to give up something that you feel you’re failing at or indeed not very good at or even something you thought would make you happy but makes you miserable.

Try and find the funny side of failing. OK, you might not see it right away but have you ever heard the phrase “tragedy plus time equals comedy”? It is true, one day you’ll look back and laugh.As I was researching for this blog I came across F**k up nights (global events in which people stand up and talk about their failures) and finding the fun in failure is exactly what these nights do.

Celebrate failure

Let’s take a leaf out of many businesses books and think about failure as a positive. For example, Inuit, the software company, celebrates failure with awards and “failure parties” because, as Co-founder Scott Cook explains, “every failure teaches something important that can be the seed for the next idea”. Similarly WL Gore, the makers of Goretex, celebrate failure just as much as they would successful projects because “action is prized; ideas are encouraged; and making mistakes is viewed as part of the creative process.”

Divorce parties, f**k up nights and other failure parties are all great opportunities to change our perceptions of failure. After all, when you fail at something it’s not necessarily an end to something but a lesson in how to start something else.

Owning up to a fail isn’t always a bad thing, in some cases you can always put a good spin on it. Look at the recent disaster with fried chicken shop, KFC, running out of chicken; their published apology has given them so much publicity that the people that had forgotten they enjoyed KFC will now be thinking it’s about time they had some. Their PR company turned their failure into an opportunity (after all there’s no such thing as bad publicity) and that’s exactly how we should view failure- as an opportunity.

If you’re determined don’t expect to succeed the first time

You will all know the well-used phrase “if at first you don’t succeed try and try again”. It tells us to not give up on our dreams if we fall at the first hurdle. The whole point of this blog really is this- failure is fine and it happens all the time. It informs us on how to do things better the second time round.When you fail and then succeed the taste of success will taste even sweeter and you will feel a bigger sense of achievement.

It takes courage to give things another go when you fail but just as much to hold your hands up and say “I’m not succeeding with this but it’s OK, at least I gave it a go”.