That’s me on the right of the photo. I attended an Outward Bound course last week and this was my very first time rock-climbing. I was really worried about how I would do, and about how I’d look compared to the others. I kept reminding myself that I didn’t have to be the best climber out there, I just had to try. I tried, I got stuff wrong, I kept trying (and failing) and when I eventually got to the top I felt a huge sense of achievement. The experience reminded me about the things that sometimes hold us back when we’re in situations where we’re not sure of the outcome.
One of my favourite quotes is by Olin Miller who said: “You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do!” How often do you hold yourself back because you’re worried about what other people will think?
Could it be that we’re more afraid of being judged than we are of failure? Could it be that we’re not scared of failing, but we’re scared of what people might say if we fail?
Let me digress for a moment to note the difference between mistakes and failures. A mistake is when we do something wrong even though we know the right way to do it. Failure is when we’re trying something new and we don’t know ahead of time how to make it successful. Where possible we should try to avoid mistakes but in reality there are times this can be hard (such as when we’re under high levels of stress, or we’re tired). Sometimes you are going to make mistakes, and that’s okay. And if you’re trying new things, pushing yourself, or taking action you are almost certainly going to experience failure.
Find peace in the fact that people aren’t judging you as much as you think they are. And even if you do have some critics, do you want to spend your time satisfying them at the expense of your own growth?
Failure is a powerful way to learn. We learn about ourselves, and we learn where we went wrong so we can avoid making the same mistakes in the future. Failures are not meant to be buried, forgotten – they give us the opportunity to reflect and can be used to help us decide our next steps.
Instead of living in fear of your failures, you could use them to your advantage. Start ‘banking’ your failures – imagine they are sitting in a high-interest savings account of all the things you have learned over the years. You can withdraw these important learnings any time you need them.
It’s natural to try to avoid looking bad in front of others, but try to fight through this fear and allow yourself to take the action you need to make in order to grow. People aren’t actually paying that much attention.
When you do experience failure, be gentle on yourself. Instead of using all of your energy to feel embarrassed or frustrated, use your energy to focus on what you can take from this experience, and what your next step should be. Hindsight is a beautiful thing. Remember, you did the best you could with what you knew at the time.
Stop looking at your failures as a bad thing. Start embracing those moments for what they have added to your knowledge, your career, your growth. It’s amazing what can result from this simple shift in perspective.