Failing

Let’s face it, failing is something that will happen to all of us (and multiple times); it’s a fact of life. We also all need a little pick-me-up when we’re mourning the loss of the goal we set our sights for. This is a bit of an ode to those experiencing their own version of grief and loss over that goal (for whatever it may be worth!).

Just like the inspirational quotes will tell us, what we do with our failure/s, depends on us. I doubt I’m the only one that then queries what the devil that is even meant to mean..

I appreciate that it’s easy to say that and less so to feel that there’s anyway beyond the feeling of failure. Of the many times I have failed, I try, with all my might, to reflect. Perhaps more than I should! But I reflect.

I recently had the distinct privilege of being involved in planning one of my favourite professional development conferences; the Queensland Law Society’s Annual Succession & Elder Law Conference. As part of the opening of the conference, an amazing woman, by the name of Dr Helena Popovic, graced the stage. Dr Popovic was there to talk to us all about brain function and boosting our brain and, in doing so, focused on a few tips to help us boost those beautiful brain cells. Now, Dr Popovic has quite a few ‘wow’ factors, but I want to touch on one thing that really resonated with me; feedback, not failure.

Interestingly, I had begun writing a post on failure about 3 weeks ago now, so it was certainly apt timing to hear Dr Popovic speak and reignite the words in my mind.

Turning failure into feedback is a pretty spectacular thing. It’s easy to say, harder to do, but boy are the benefits invaluable.

Being a typical lawyer, I like breaking things down, so lets do that.

Let’s look at some definitions – but lets look at them progressively and then in aggregate.

Fail (verb) – to be unsuccessful in achieving one’s goal

Success (noun) – the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.

Goal (noun) – the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.

Feedback (noun) – information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.

Reaction (noun) – something done, felt, or thought in response to a situation or event.

Improve (verb) – make or become better.

When we think about goals we set ourselves in real life, we probably think of that one goal. But when you sit and break down each of the steps required to achieve that goal, there’s probably lots of mini-but just as important-goals within it. But deeper than that, perhaps the question is not “what is the goal?”, maybe it’s more “why do I want to achieve this goal?”. If it’s a professional accomplishment, is it for the accolades? is it to develop your skill-set? is it to put that achievement on your resume to get you a better job?

When you break things down in this way, you may find that your “why” is the real goal and the steps required to achieve the goal may be more intrinsic to your own personal growth then achieving “the goal” itself. Maybe there is more to be gained in the journey than the destination. In addition to this, your goals may (and likely do) change and evolve as you move through journeys, which means that you have even more chances to learn and grow from the experience of seeking that goal and more again if you don’t achieve it.

Which brings us then to feedback. If the real reason you want to accomplish that goal is for some other bigger reason or purpose, then, chances are, the steps involved in working towards that goal are likely to be seriously valuable to your personal development and growth. In my view, this means that those steps deserve meaningful consideration, for your own benefit.

[Side note] Yes, I agree that sometimes “The whole is greater than the some of it’s parts” (Aristotle), but I also believe in finding meaning in the experience, particularly when you are going through self-reflection, which can be distorted when you’re always looking at the ‘big picture’.

This then means that the same work that you have done to accomplish that goal is not misused or wasted time; it’s experience. Experience informs us and experience helps us improve. Improvement requires feedback. Although it’s hard to hear, it’s there to help us.

What you are going to achieve out of the process of seeking the goal is going to be unique to you, which means that you also, then, have the power to make it something worthwhile for you and your future.

The legal profession is, generally, pretty competitive. There’s lots of egos and everyone is seeking to “win” their case. When we go to Court, there’s a ‘winner’ and a ‘loser’ so, of course, when we lose, it’s easy to feel the burden of failure. Mentally, there are other aspects of your own self-doubt and confidence taking a hit and don’t me started on “Imposter Syndrome” (a topic for another day).

However, without that failure, what do we learn? What feedback do we receive? If we win, do we reflect as deeply on that journey; maybe, maybe not. I suspect we’re not as likely to reflect and be constructive with our reflection if we have “won” because we’d probably feel pretty good about the outcome.

But, if we ‘fail’, we reflect and we reflect hard. We’re likely to be critical of ourselves (and maybe even others) and feel downright lousy that we haven’t achieved anything. But we have achieved something; we’ve achieved experience and we have achieved the delivery of information and now have the chance to react and feel something about that information we have received and now we can process that and use it to work towards making it better. Can you really say you’d have the same insight if you “won”?

Failure and feedback are things that will change you; you can either use it’s power for good or for evil.

If we lead with feedback and leave the word ‘failure’ behind, it can be empowering. You shift your mind away from the negative and it may even help you find purpose in the goal not being achieved in the way you wanted in the first place. Perhaps you may also find purpose in your goal changing.

Your goal may even change as a result of this perceived “failure” but, if you turn that failure into feedback and use it to fuel a new fire in your belly, would that be such a bad thing?

Feedback, not failure.

Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It’s the courage to continue that counts.

Winston Churchill

One Comment Add yours

  1. TMP says:

    I have recently heard that schools are shying away from identifying failure or competition but those are concepts in real life and we will evetually have to face them. We should acknowledge them and build a healthy relationship with failure. The process of failing and what to do afterwards with feedback and hopefully growth can be practiced like math or grammar.
    Nice post. The quote at the end is one of my favourites.

    Like

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