Failure: We need to change our perspective

As the parent of a not-quite nine-year-old, I’ve watched a lot of kids movies the past few years. Zootopia is a Disney movie about Judy, a rabbit from Bunnyville who goes to the big city of Zootopia to become the first bunny police officer. She’s clever, a little naive, but tenacious. I love Judy. Near the beginning Judy is riding on a high speed train into Zootopia while listening to the singer Gazelle (voiced by Shakira) belt out the song “Try Everything”. This song is perfect as Judy’s anthem as it’s all about trying, failing, and trying again until you succeed. It’s the story of the underdog, or in this case, the underbunny.

Failing is not something that most people seem to be comfortable with. I work in education where an F has long stood for “failure” and carries very negative connotations. A student may fail a test or assignment or an entire course. They may even fail out of a program. Failure at any level is frowned upon, and that’s a problem. Students should be provided with opportunities within courses and programs to experience failure, learn from it, and get better. I’m seeing a shift on this in education as instructors are encouraged to provide feedback along the way so that students can learn from their mistakes (where did they go wrong and how could they do it differently in the future) AND get another chance to show that they’ve learned from their initial failures.

There are two lessons here that many of us should be taking to heart. First, we have to give ourselves opportunities to fail. This is something I haven’t always been particularly good at and it made me risk-averse. That may sound like a good thing, but being afraid of failure keeps you from trying new things, from meeting new people, and from having new adventures in life.

The second lesson is that If we fail at something we should take the time to reflect on what went wrong. Again, this is something that I’m still working on. Failure at something tends to make me defensive. Some external factor must be the reason for my failure. This doesn’t serve me well and it sets a horrible example for my daughter, so I’m trying much harder to look at the reasons for why I’ve made a mistake or failed at something. Was it a lack of preparation? Do I lack a needed skill? What about poor communication? Did I rush or was I careless? Did I ignore valuable advice from others? Did I let my emotions cloud my judgement or make me be rash in my actions?

These are all common reasons for making mistakes in both minor (you tripped going up the stairs because you didn’t take the time to tie your shoe) or major (your marriage is falling apart because of several of the above stated reasons). If you ignore the reasons behind your failure, there’s a good chance that you’re going to fail again and again at that same thing, or something similar. I addition, you’ll be more likely to believe that you’re going to fail, which starts an awful downward spiral.

Brene Brown noted in her book Daring Greatly, that shame prevents innovation. Shame, according to Brown is “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”. Failing leads to shame if we don’t see it as a chance to learn and grow. If we change how we view failure and opportunities to potentially experience failure, we may open the door to new opportunities and gain different perspectives about ourselves and those around us.

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