Failing Forward


Failing Forward

As we reflect on a year that has come to a close, we also look forward to a different, brighter landscape in 2021. Despite the pressures brought about through the festive period…..and the ensuing, inevitable restrictions, there is a light on the horizon.

The increasing availability of effective vaccines is undoubtably a scientific, medical and social game-changer. However, it’s worth remembering how that breakthrough came about.

Towards the tail end of 2020, nine thousand volunteers were given two full doses, four weeks apart. Effectiveness was said to be around 62%. Still, a triumph as anything above 50% is considered to be useful in fighting the pandemic. But it was a group of volunteers who were given a ‘mistaken’ (or ‘wrong’) half first dose who provided the experts with an incredible breakthrough with effectiveness being around 90%!

How many times have things gone wrong in business or in our personal lives…..mistakes having been made that ultimately proved to open a door to breakthrough and progress?

Think of the enigmatic Steve Jobs and the fact that he was fired from the very company he began. Jobs said in 2005,

“I didn’t see it at the time, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have happened to me.”

Long before Jobs was on the scene, Albert Einstein famously said,

“Success is failure in progress.”

Many of us have felt the weight and sometimes almost unbearable pressure to get it right…..and right first time. Failure is viewed in a negative light. That feeling of failure may have for many of us, been cultivated during our school days, our families, our relationships etc. Some of us may have had to overcome a very real sense of not being good enough.

Failure is part of us all in some way or another, it is what we do with that failure that matters. Here are three clear and obvious benefits of failure.

1. Failure keeps our ego in check. Contrition and humility can provide the basis for us to start again.

2. Failure can be a catalyst for positive change and growth. Being forced from our places of comfort and perhaps even, self-pity, provide us with the opportunity to try again, try afresh with renewed vigour and determination. Maybe to try something completely different and perhaps surprise ourselves by the capacity we have to be inventive, discovering an unknown capacity for success.

3. Failure can help build resilience. Sheryl Sandberg has spoken about the importance of ‘bouncing forward’ rather than just bouncing back from adversity. In her book, Option B, Sandberg discusses the challenges for so many of us when option A isn’t possible any more, when option A has eluded us she says we need to “kick the sh*t out of option B”

We all have our own demons regarding mistakes we have made and failures as we see them. Sometimes the discouragement of failure is the result of our own unhealthy or unrealistic expectations. Or sometimes it’s created by the insensitivity, judgement and criticism of others. Whatever its source, failure may never be far away. Maybe the willingness to embrace it and bounce forward is a good attitude to have in an era of uncertainty and ambiguity.

Perhaps we can look forward to a post-pandemic era and as we reflect on the mistake that will save so many lives, each one of us can grasp the gauntlets of optimism and faith and be open to surprising and unexpected successes in the year that lies ahead.

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