May 22, 2018 by Dymphna

Truth Bomb Tuesday: 50 Shades of Failure

I think most of us have our success/failure grading scale calibrated all wrong.

For most people, I think there’s one grade of success, and then fifty shades of failure beneath it. Like

Partial failure
Total Failure
Miserable Failure
Total Trainwreck

This is one of those instances where we are just too hard on ourselves.

The reality is that if everything lands in a project – if every element does what it needs to do when it was supposed to do it, and everything went off without a hitch, that’s actually a stunning success. It’s also incredibly rare.

But we set that impossibly high standard as our benchmark, and then think that everything short of that is a failure.

And in that way, the grading scale should almost be reversed, so that if you put them side by side, it’d look like:

Success = Stunning Success
Partial failure = Total Success
Total Failure = Success
Miserable Failure = Useful learning experience
Total Trainwreck = Failure

And I’m including failure there because I don’t want you to think that failure is a bad thing, the most successful people I know are also the ones who have failed most.

There’s no growth with without breaking a few eggs.

But coming back to our distorted ideas of success, I think it’s useful to recognise that we all have this tendency, and try to manage our expectations.

I’ve seen a lot of projects come off in a really awesome way. In the total success zone.

But the people driving them feel deflated. Like they missed the mark they were aiming for, and now they feel a bit deflated.

But in that moment, it’s a bit of a useless emotion. Because when they try to explain why they feel dejected, there’s nothing much to point to.

“Oh yeah, I cleared $50K in profit, but I really thought we’d land the cover of Better Homes & Gardens Magazine.”

Even when they say it to themselves, they feel a bit silly saying it.

And so they end up in this useless kind of no-mans land. They don’t get the energising celebration that comes after success – the celebration that’s necessary to push you on and drive you into your next project.

But they also don’t get a valuable learning experience out of it, because, well, nothing really went wrong. There were no elements that totally failed and that needed to be deconstructed and analysed.

So there’s no joy and there’s no learning. You’re stuck in the middle. (Well, at least you got $50K in your pocket.)

The solution is to recalibrate our grading scale. So that when we land a success or a total success (or, if we’re really lucky, a stunning success) we’re there ready to celebrate and revel in our victories.

This celebration is really important. If you’re going to push yourself hard, you need to let yourself enjoy the spoils of your victories. Otherwise, you risk tipping your inner child into resentment.

And sure, when a learning opportunity comes our way, we need to welcome that too. But we reserve that process for its proper place.

And now imagine how much finer your life would be if it were coloured from a palette of 50 shades of success.