Thou Shall Not Fail?

She had already lost her mother and slowly sunk into a deep, grieving depression. She further ended up with a failed marriage and was left with a baby daughter she had to raise alone. She struggled with unemployment and just had meagre unemployment benefits to feed two mouths.
Between the time she conceived the idea of Harry Potter and till the time her book got published, world’s richest author JK Rowling was amidst several failures. After finishing her book, she sent the manuscript to at least a dozen different publishers and each one of them rejected her work till it finally saw light of the day. She later noted,
“I think it is fair to say that by any conventional measure…I had failed on an epic scale…”
This and many similar such stories stand testament to the fact that it is not one’s failure which defines our ultimate defeat but It is a matter of how one deals with it. Failure, in itself, is not bad. But we are conditioned to see it like that. What we need to do is to focus on learning how to use failure to one’s own advantage.

Failure is Not Bad

Remember Surf Excel’s decade old  “Daag Achche Hain” campaign which is loosely on the premise that while trying to do something good, if things gets messy, it’s okay!
Ditto goes for failures!
The world renowned lyricist, Azeem Dehlavi, beautifully quoted –
“Girte hain sheh-sawaar hi maidaan-e-jang mein, woh tifl kya gire ga jo ghutnon ke bal chale”
(Only a fighter who rides the horse in a battlefield has a chance of falling. But how will those cowards fall who opt to walk on their knees and stay away from battlefield ever know the taste of victory?) One of my mentors, Bhasker Iyer (VP, Established Pharma, Abbott) used to articulate this point well by saying –
The easiest way to succeed is to aim low!”
Obviously, he didn’t!

How are we conditioned to see Failure?

If you look around hundreds of resumes, Linked-in profiles etc, you will hardly find any failure. We are so good in hiding it away. We are embarrassed at the mention of it – like how “sex” is tabooed topic in most middle-class Indian homes! There is so much of stigma around it. We feel that if we share our failures, people would question our competence. Our acceptance would take a big hit. Those few times when we are “caught” failing, we conveniently find someone else to blame for it, anyone from our bosses right up to Narendra Modi!
We are conditioned to see failure as an opposite to success!

Using Failure to Our Own Advantage

Truth is if we keep an open mind and see failure as one of the steps in success cycle, we then acquire this huge advantage to continuously better ourselves and chart a future course which takes us to our dreams. A success cycle typically is: Try  – Fail – Learn;
Try Fail Learn until we succeed. To take full advantage of the success cycle, the KEY is to find WHY we failed. There could be numerous reasons:
  • Ability
  • Focus
  • Fit
  • External Factors
  • Learning Curve
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To turn failures to our advantage, we need to have an open mind, deprived of cognitive biases, have the courage to call a spade a spade, and zero-in on the key factors that led to the failure. I would recommend a detailed root-cause-analysis (RCA). There are various techniques/tools that are available. Let’s discuss a few possibilities as to what might be causing our failures –

If Ability is The Issue

We might need to learn a new skill. We can’t expect different results if we keep doing what we did or how we always did it. Something needs to change. “We” need to change. So, get ready for a new learning cycle.

If Focus is the issue

We may need to train the executive part of our brain to understand the importance of what we are into, so that it can focus on it amidst various distractions (practicing meditation and mindfulness does surely help).

How Well We Fit?

This can also often become a major contributor for failure. It could be your personal fit to the task (Aptitude) or fitment issue with the culture. In both cases, it is a tough journey and the only way forward is to try keep adapting / learning and you may succeed. At other times, we look to make a change!

Learning Cycle

No learning cycle is possible without failing. Whether you are learning something new or striving for a higher level – you try, you fail, and you learn and keep repeating this till you succeed.
External factors are not in our hand however what we have in our hand is to plan for them. We can anticipate all possible things that can go wrong and think of some back up/ alternate plans as things do go wrong in real life and if we haven’t thought of a back-up plan – we would be caught unawares.

Look Out Daily for Failures

Once we start seeing failure as part of our success cycles, we can practice embedding this attitude in our daily lives and look out for a failure. And when that happens, give it a knowing smile and work to turn it around!

Putting Failure in perspective

Bronnie Ware, a palliative care nurse, spent most of her time tending to the needs of those who were dying. Later, she wrote an Internet blog post about the most common regrets that the people she had cared for had expressed to her. The post, called ‘The Top Five Regrets of the Dying,’ gained huge momentum and was read by more than three million people in its first year. The most common regrets people had on their death bed included :
“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
“I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
“I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
“I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”

“I wish that I had let myself be happier.”

Life Beyond Failures

While we know that a major failure can be very debilitating, it is important that we put our
failures in perspective so that they don’t define us and we accept the fact that in a few weeks/ months/ years from the present moment, it probably would not even matter. After all, everyone fails. It’s the people who have learnt to act on their failures who are more successful than the others.

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