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Push through failure

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Push through failure

Scott Miker

Failure is a natural part of life.  Our entire childhood is about learning limits.  We try something and learn from the outcome. 

I watch my daughters do this all the time.  My two-year-old daughter is very adventurous.  She climbs all over things and shows little fear as she pushes beyond what she had previously done.

Sometimes this gets frustrating for my wife and I because we can imagine what could happen.  We see her climb on a kitchen chair next to the stove to help my wife make dinner and we know there is an opportunity for her to get seriously burned if she gets too close.

Sometimes she tries to climb into the car and into her car seat and I think it is impossible for her to do it.  Then somehow I sit back and say, “fine go ahead and try but it is too high up for you to do it.”  Then she proves me wrong and does it.

She is constantly taking risks that she doesn’t fully understand.  I am used to a strategic approach to risk, managing it as best I can and avoiding it if the potential rewards do not match the risk that is needed.

But she keeps taking on risks and is growing at an incredible rate.  Instead of trying to avoid a failure, she takes the approach that she will try and if it hurts her or if she fails, she will just cry it out.

Through parenting I completely understand why most parents focus so much on helping their children avoid failure.  We see the pain and devastation that a major failure could bring and we care for them.  So we try to guide them in a way that helps them avoid failure.

But I see in my daughter the exact reason why we shouldn’t just spend our lives doing everything possible to avoid failure.  Her lack of fear allows her to constantly reach new heights and gain new accomplishments. 

As adults we still have to manage risk.  We usually don’t have a parent looking over our shoulder waiting to grab us as we start to fall off the chair.  But this doesn’t mean we have to avoid all risk and constantly take the safe path. 

One of my favorite quotes on taking risk and playing it safe comes from Stephen Levine who says, “Safety is the most unsafe spiritual path you can take.  Safety keeps you numb and dead.  People are caught by surprise when it is time to die.  They have allowed themselves to live so little.”

Maybe we can take a lesson from the adventurous child in all of us.  Then we can start pushing through safety in order to reach something new and exciting, rather than doing everything possible to avoid failure, which will ultimately lead to a safe, numb life.