Inside My Head

Failure: the other f word

Earlier this month, I was asked to participate in a panel discussion on women in leadership. I was honored to be included and was looking forward to the discussion. In preparation for our time together, the moderators of the panel sent us a few of the questions they wanted us to consider in advance. They were great questions about our own personal experiences, and I was looking forward to hearing from the other panelists. I was having a hard time with one of the questions, though.

“Tell us about a time you failed.”

Gulp. I had no idea how I was going to answer that question. Now, to be very clear before I go on – it’s not that I’ve always been successful or that things have always worked out for me. That’s absolutely not the case. There have been plenty of times things haven’t worked out as I’d hoped or planned, but nothing jumped out as an instance of failure. That’s become such a loaded word, and just isn’t how I think about things.

We’re so quick to judge and label experiences or situations as successes or failures so we can study or dismiss them, but that’s a terribly limiting point of view. It sets us up for either/or, with no room to grow or think differently. When I think back on things in my life that others might label as failure – leaving school in the middle of a semester, quitting a new job after two weeks and going back to my old job or leaving a dream job – I just don’t see those things as failures. I see them as important events and situations that helped me define who I am. Of course they didn’t work out as I’d planned, but they taught me so much about myself and what I value.

And honestly, I’m grateful things in my life haven’t turned out exactly as planned. If I hadn’t altered my idea of what I wanted out of life as I got older and learned more, I wouldn’t have enjoyed many of the adventures I’ve had. And if I was quick to label something a failure when it didn’t go as I’d planned, would I have been able to enjoy the ride as much?

I’m not afraid to try new things or not be the best at something (there are LOTS of things I’m not the best at!) and I suppose some would say that means I’m not afraid of failure. I guess I think that means I’m not afraid to try, give it my best and see what happens from there. And perhaps suspend judgement along the way.

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