Most people see failure as something awful that provides pain and heartache without anything positive. But most success stories have elements of failure interspersed with achievements.
Failure is a necessary aspect of growth. If we all simply strive to fail less, all we end up doing is what we are already doing. We never really know our limits or what we are capable of.
So we can’t ignore the fact that stretching ourselves will result in failures. We can’t avoid the discomfort around coming up short.
But failure helps us to build confidence. If we have pushed ourselves and failed, we gain the opportunity to learn from it. We can learn what to do next time to avoid losing. We can learn how to overcome those difficult feelings and that disappointment.
But if we don’t hit adversity and don’t get knocked down from time to time, we take on a mindset of trying to not lose. Instead of trying to win by working hard and taking the right risks, we fall back to old habits and simply try to get through without challenge.
I am a big fan of college football. The examples of triumph, defeat, adversity, hard work etc. are all presented in unique ways every Saturday during the fall.
One pattern that I see often is when a team is afraid to lose. It usually surfaces in a game that goes into the fourth quarter with the team ahead trying to do everything possible to avoid getting beat. They usually have the lead and simply need to keep things the same in order to come out victorious.
But the other team no longer has anything to lose. They accept their position and the likely outcome that they will fail. So if they take a risk and it doesn’t work out they are right where they are. They suddenly don’t have a log to lose but much to gain.
But if they take a risk and it works out, they can gain much more. So they usually start to run aggressive plays and take chances they normally wouldn’t take. They learn from each play and gain more and more confident as they chip away at their deficit in points.
The leading team takes a very conservative stance because they just have to stop the other team. They don’t need to do things differently (in their minds) they just have to hold on long enough for the time to run out.
In these moments it always seems that the team that is losing feels they have no more to lose and somehow this gives them confidence. The failures throughout the game gave them insight into what they need to do differently to succeed.
I see this at work also. I have been involved with employees who were on the fringe of losing their job. Instead of taking a hard look at what they are doing and making a change, they often stick to a mentality of trying to avoid making a mistake. They don’t take any risks in order to improve and instead feel as though they just need to focus on not making an error.
But this tends to transform into a very insecure employee who then becomes even more prone to making mistakes and taking too conservative of a stance. Instead of confidently moving forward and working to constantly improve, they simply try to do as little as possible so they don’t fail.
But if that individual can harness their failures and learn from them, they can start to try new things that ultimately could result in a much more successful approach. When this happens it is really fun to watch. They tend to do much more than save their jobs, they end up earning the respect of others and gaining the confidence to strive forward into new territory. They tend to become a leader among the staff.
Confidence follows failure even though we assume it follows success. Success without overcoming failure leaves us fragile and insecure. It sets the stage for us to simply try to avoid defeat when faced with challenges. So next time you face a failure, use that to help grow your abilities and take risks that can lead towards growth and improvement. Doing so will be much more fun and will likely result in a newfound confidence in your abilities.