Thursday, May 31, 2012

Failure is an Option (it's almost a necessity)

When was the last time you failed? I mean really fall-on-your-face failure where you go all out for something and it doesn't work. For most of us it's probably been a long time, perhaps never. We tend not to push the edge on many things citing security, family and reputation. Yet just the thought of failure is what keeps many of us from doing new and unique things with our lives. Paradoxically, when we willingly risk failure we have the greatest personal breakthroughs. So, how do we create a space in our lives where we can risk failure for the sake of uncovering new skills or having new experiences?

Know Your Reaction.  It's important to recognize that we work against some pretty strong genetic wiring. We are not wired for uncertainty. Uncertainty, or new behavior could lead to death back in the stone age. Trying a new weapon against a predator might mean the ultimate failure if it didn't work. So our minds tend to see something uncertain or new as a threat and our typical reaction is fight, flight or freeze. Admitting our inner reaction to attempting something new is important so we can deal with that reaction.

Listen to Your Fear.  We have responses because they help us. I use to love the "No Fear" shirts and logos, but I realize how stupid that is. Fear is necessary to make us think about what we are about to do. The important step is to understand if the fear is valid. A couple of years ago I had an opportunity to scuba dive off Maui. I was scared to death at first, but eventually I got over it and dove to below 80 feet. Yet there was good reason to be scared,... I'm not certified to scuba dive! I balanced that with the fact that I had a certified diver with me, so I took the plunge. But I had to balance out my fear first.

Put Your Fear In Perspective.  Though I understand my fear of failure, it crops up almost every time I try a new venture, write a new book, or give a new speech. One of the disciplines that helps me is to put things in perspective. I'm not operating on someone, or risking my own life. I often say to myself when I'm attempting something new "No one is gonna die if this fails" (except maybe when I was scuba diving). It helps me laugh at my fear and move forward.

Get Some Support.  Trying something new and risking failure is especially hard when you go it alone. It always helps to have support from those you love and trust. Talk it through with them and listen to their counsel. You may still have to go against what they say (sometimes our friends and family want to protect us from ourselves) but hopefully you still have their love and support should anything go wrong. I've found it's very important to me.

Mitigate the Damages.  One of the most important lessons I've learned about risking failure is to mitigate the damage. Have a plan when to pull the plug on something you are attempting. When I quit Merrill Lynch in 2000 to build our consulting company I left behind a Vice President title and salary and all the security that brings. But I had put aside a year of earnings just in case the business failed. I also gave myself a timeline and assured my friends and family that if the consulting business did not succeed within that time frame I would return to a corporate environment. Thankfully that didn't happen, but it made the leap into entrepreneurship easier knowing I had a plan.

Nothing can take away fear of something new. As humans we will react when we attempt something we've never attempted before because our emotional brain is dealing with the unknown. Rather than letting this paralyze us, we need to monitor it and discipline ourselves to move forward. Personal greatness is not achieved by doing the same things over and over. It's time to risk something new. What are you up to?

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