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4.1.13 Failure: Learning from your “uh, oh” moments

Earlier this month, I participated in a panel entitled “Failure Fest” hosted by D:hive and Fail Detroit. I was introduced, by all accounts, as a failure. Now, you would think that I would be bothered by this introduction, but actually, I was honored. 

Failure is generally defined as a lack of success. I prefer Seth Godin’s refined view of failure as a learning event. During the Failure Fest, we took on the latter. By discussing our personal and professional failures as events of reflection, enhanced understanding and opportunities to pivot, we were able to expose our raw and most vulnerable selves. Exposed – not as victims – but as victors.

In the face of failure, we each have a choice. We have a choice to remain in a place that lacks success or move with our new knowledge to a place rich with success.

As I reflect on a lifetime of learning events, I feel grateful for the adjustments I was advised to make through those experiences.

In my elementary years, I remember failing at mastering my multiplication facts. That particular failure landed me on the “dumb” side of the classroom. I’m not sure if that’s what my teacher or my classmates called it, but it was clearly the street name for that delineated territory of education. What’s a pint-sized person who hasn’t mastered her multiplication facts to do? Accept her place on the dumb side of the class or scrap her way to the other side. I didn’t decide right away. I remember thinking: This isn’t so bad. There are other people here just like me … nice enough kids who also can’t multiply. There are surely worse things in the world.

Then, the kids on the smart side of the room started getting cool things. Like, more time to read, lollipops and recess. I had to get to the other side! So, I asked my teacher for help and she gave it to me. I don’t remember exactly what that help entailed – I’m sure there were flashcards involved, but that mattered less than the outcome. Eventually, I learned to multiply and made my way to the other side. I remembered that experience when I took a basic math test to get my first job as a teenager. Those facts came in handy and I got the job!  And a bunch of other great jobs after that, too.

I remember that experience when my kids fail, too.  They don’t always make the team, pass the test or get the job. I don’t either. None of us do. Occasionally, we make the wrong turn, and once in a while, we screw things up. If we’re doing enough things, it’s bound to happen. What’s important is how you react. What you do after the failure is what defines you and charts your path.

Making mistakes means your human.  Learning from them and moving on means you’re truly successful!