You learn more at a funeral than you learn at a wedding. Solomon tells us that in times of disaster we must consider, but in times of prosperity we should rejoice. Weddings are beginnings; they are a starting point. But funerals represent the end—when it’s over you have either succeeded or failed.
Nobody wants to fail, but everybody will. The problem with many leaders is that they are not willing to fail. Everyone is willing to win, but it’s rare that someone is willing to fail. King Solomon said a live dog is better off than a dead lion because the living have hope. If you’re breathing, you’re a candidate for change. There’s hope for you. Is failure an option? It should be. It needs to be on your list of things to do because it will end up on your bucket list anyway. When we play it too safe, we lose all vitality. Think of how many entrepreneurs are college dropouts. Failure is always one of your only options.
Failure as an Invitation
Failure invites us to improvise, maximize, and capitalize. It’s an invitation to become better. But being risk adverse only creates rationalization. Doing nothing will invite us to tell ourselves rational lies as to why we couldn’t do it, make it or shake it. We have been taught from a very young age that ‘mistakes’ are bad and that they are to be avoided. As if they are the ends as opposed to parts of a process of moving forward. The dreaded red pen from our grade school years has taught us this. Rationalizing is telling ourselves rational lies.
Ask any child to draw you a picture of a dog; no matter what it looks like, they are proud of it—that is until an older sibling or peer makes fun of it. Yet Picasso was able to capitalize on what many consider poor drawing by calling it creative. Failures are creative attempts at moving forward and learning. If we understand that failure is an inevitable part of being, we can embrace it as part of life. But if we believe it to be a reflection of our personhood or leadership skills we will avoid opportunities to fail thus stifling our mental and spiritual growth and opportunities as leaders.
This happens to leaders all the time. They see the failures of others as a reflection on their own inability. Therefore they judge others harshly as if frightening the failures out of others will strengthen their own premise. People make mistakes. We all make mistakes. We miss the mark. Some leaders sit patiently waiting to tell you where you screwed up and never tell you when you live up. My friend Mike gently instructs people who miss the mark—it makes them want to please him for being nice about it—helpful not harmful.
A great friend once told me, “It’s not wrong to be wrong; it’s wrong to stay wrong.” He told me that in the late 1980s and I never forgot it. I would venture to say it is the same with failure. It’s not a failure to be a failure; it’s a failure to stay a failure. Leaders appear to be failures when they refuse to allow failure to help define the pathway for moving forward. For example, if the door does not open then that is a growth opportunity to try another door. Giving up seems silly, but many do. When failure defines who we are rather than what went wrong, we lose all chances of capitalizing on it.
In the same manner, you may be thinking as Eckhart Tolle once thought; “I cannot live with myself any longer,” therefore I am a failure. The fact that there is an “I” and a “self” is a sign that we are either living out of one or the other. Our spirits or self is the present “being” living in a state of awareness and separate from of our soul or our mind. But if we are defining ourselves by what we think (soul or mind) and do (body and its mechanism), whether active or reactive, we are short-circuiting our ability to both learn and grow as humans. We fail, but we are not failures. Many runners fall, but they are not considered fallers. Failure is rooted not in who we are as a person, but rather in what can and will happen while a person.
Failing Is Normal
Strong leaders understand that failing is normal to life. It’s part of life. Everybody knows this, but many pretend it isn’t so. Many view failure as some foreign stranger who sneaked in unawares or some freak accident that occurred while we were sleeping or watching football and not paying attention. But no, failure is none of that. Failure is taking risks in order to break the barriers of the status quo. It’s jumping off the cliff and building our wings on the way down. It’s not settling for where we are and a frenetic attempt at arriving where we think we should be. It’s all these things and more. It’s a sign that we are still breathing.
Only when we are satisfied to do nothing will failure affect us in negative ways. When we bury our heads in the sand and pretend nothing exists. When we act abnormally as if not being where we believe we are capable of being is the right thing to do. When we see life as a performance instead of a passion.
Leaders Don’t See Setbacks As Failures
Henry Ford failed and went broke five times before he finally succeeded at what he believed in. Beethoven handled the violin clumsily and preferred playing his own compositions instead of improving his technique. His teacher eventually called him hopeless as a composer. Colonel Sanders had the construction of a new road put him out of business in 1967. He went to over one thousand places trying to sell his chicken recipe and was rejected every time before he found a buyer on his one thousand and first attempt. The buyer believed in his recipe of eleven herbs and spices. Seven years later, at the age of 75, Colonel Sanders sold his fried chicken company for a finger-licking fifteen million dollars.
Many don’t know that a newspaper editor for a lack of creative ideas abruptly fired the great Walt Disney, the inventor of Mickey Mouse, one day. He also went bankrupt several times before he built his first Disneyland. Disney could have easily given up and considered himself a failure, but he didn’t. Are you failing? Good; this means you are still living.