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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Redefining Failure


It's time for us to redefine what we think of as failure. Failure has gotten a bad rap for far too long, and I, for one, must stand in its defense.
I am an expert on the tyranny of this word. My own definition of failure in my life is strident and all-encompassing. My inner critic is a dictator who wants to crush me into the ground beyond recovery. I grovel at her feet, begging for scraps of approval and forgiveness. In these moments, I am a person whose soul has been stolen by the relentless propaganda running through her own brain. When I see others with amorphous, cruel interpretations of their experiences, I recognize what's going on. As an educator and a coach, I see this over-interpretation of the word failure on a daily basis, and I see the pain that it causes. That's why I'm here to help redefine the word.

We've all read quotes on success, and failure, and trying, and trying again. Some people read those quotes, believe them, get inspired, and move on. Very likely, those people are not reading these observations. We who are reading this are the truly faithful fans of the word - those devout, zealous victims of failure who attach intense emotion to the word. We attach vivid images, too, and a multitude of experiences as evidence of the imminent possibility of failure. We are married to the shoulds and the coulds and the woulds, the unachievable goals, and the standards that shoot far beyond perfectionism. We march with all our might in defense of our own suffering.

But what if failure weren't such a horrible thought? What if we were to welcome it, instead, to the point where we'd want to adorn the walls of our houses with decorative wooden signs sporting this inspirational word f-word? Entertain, briefly, the possibility of embracing failure and delighting in the many interesting details it provides. Failure, instead of being the absence of success, could be nuanced, instead. If failure had a texture, it could be flannel, and we could run our fingers over it and feel the comfort in knowing that there's warmth and softness there.

Failure. Hmm... It's attractive. It's compelling. It means we've accumulated experiences that are contrary to our desired effects, and those unexpected turns taught us, instead. Instead of reinforcing our steadfast beliefs about what should be, we get a beautiful myriad of interesting details that deepen our lives and offer us new directions.

Failure. It's creative. It's a springboard for expanded awareness. Instead of filing away another success, we get to have this rich experience that teaches us and requires us to go beyond what we initially expected. Endless possibilities exist with failure! What if failure were just an invitation for further consideration of options, and an entry point for even better stuff down the road? What if it made us less afraid to try because, suddenly, we realized that without this tyrannical fear of results, a rainbow of rich possibilities could then open up before us?
The definition of failure, then, might be "new possibilities." It could also mean revelry and delight. And the definition must certainly include the term renewal.

Debra Payne, PhD is an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) and a proud member of the International Coaching Federation. She is also the President/CEO/Big Cheese of her company, Better Than Success. She specializes in helping Academic Women in transition. Her mission is to assist others in taking the lid off anything that is preventing them from pursuing bold, authentic dreams. Kiss your self-limiting beliefs goodbye at
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