If Failure is So Important, Why Don’t We Talk About It?
A lot has been said about failure.
There’s the typical “you learn more from failure than from success” and the endearing “I haven’t failed, I’ve simply found 1,000 ways that won’t work.”
We’ve heard these statements incessantly repeated throughout our childhood, sports teams, academia, careers, and personal life. But despite the general embracement of the idea of failure, we don’t talk about it very often.
Instead, we hang up motivational quotes set beneath images of mountains and sunsets. We claim, “failure is essential to growth.”
And then we call it good.
Why Don’t We Talk About Failure?
If failure is so important, you’d think we’d make room for it in our conversations. Why don’t we? In my opinion, there are many reasons for this, and they all seem to come back to these themes:
We’re ashamed: When we fail, we feel bad, wrong, and unworthy. This unpleasant emotion makes us want to hide under a rock — not shout from the rooftops.
We forget what failure feels like: Humans are resilient. We don’t like to linger on our pain, so we quickly move on and jump into our next project. Soon, the feeling of our past failure fades away and everything is right in the world. Why dwell on the past when the present is so great?
It’s not “cool”: In today’s world, winners are “cool” (whatever that means). Losers are not. There’s no argument — failure makes us feel like losers, which prevents us from speaking up and sharing our stories. Winners go on to fill the void with their achievements. Each morning, your news feed is filled with success stories.
People don’t want to hear it: On the off chance that you want to share your failures, some people are not receptive to listening. For some reason, your failure makes them uncomfortable. Whether this is caused by power dynamics, toxic masculinity, or some other psychological reason, it affects the way we communicate.
When I look back at my career and consider my failures, one thing that comes to mind is the way I managed people when I first became a sales manager. At that time, I wasn’t managing like a leader. Notably, I didn’t manage in a way that empowered my team or made them feel like I had their backs. I didn’t invest enough time in building relationships with each of my team members.
Instead, I put emphasis on building relationships with upper management, as that’s what I thought I was supposed to do.
The reality is, I should have been focused on both, but if one or the other has to give, it’s your team members that need to feel a strong sense of trust with their manager. Otherwise, everything else breaks.
I regret this, and there are people that deserve an apology from me. However, I’ve learned a lot from it and have made positive changes in the way I manage and lead.
So Let’s Change The Narrative
If failure is as important as experts claim (I think it is), then we should write about it, talk about it, and leverage it. Way more often.
If we commit to writing, talking, and leveraging failure, maybe it can lead to greater success in our work, personal lives, and future ventures.
To start the change on my end, I’m going to devote time each week to discuss failure. Some of the topics I have queued up include:
- How to embrace failure as a competitive person
- Why you should let your employees fail
- My biggest failures
- What I’ve learned from failing
My hope is that we will all learn something from focusing on personal failure and then apply it to our personal and professional lives. At the very least, I’d like to bring a bit of awareness to the lack of conversation around failure.
So let’s dig in.
Part 2: How to Be Competitive & Embrace Failure