What’s the “F” word got to do with stress?

What?!! You weren’t born reciting mathematical equations? You didn’t make your first million before you hit puberty? You’re not an A list actor or listed in Forbes?

I made a mistake

OMG – you are such a FAILURE!

But seriously, isn’t it funny how this F word (and the expectations that go with it) can wield such power over us? It’s enough to paralyze you. I mean what if you risk being criticized or rejected? What if someone discovers what your weaknesses are? What if you lose your social status and the lifestyle that goes with it? What if you’re successes don’t compare well with others? There are so many ways in which we can fail. It’s a miracle we get out of bed in the morning.

Now I’m not promoting taking reckless risks, or indulging in grossly irresponsible actions. But neither can we live in fear of failing.

“Nobody does things flawlessly the first time. It’s a process of refining strategies and techniques that involves – well, failing.”

The word “success” is derived from the Latin succedere, “to come after”—and what would it come after? Failure.

One of the problems we face is connected to western consumer culture. You know those overnight success and celebrity schemes that are more plentiful than sand in the Sahara? The ones that scream be a winner, get in now before it’s too late! So, exuding manic evangelism, and without any real evaluation or forward planning, we dive in head first.

The trouble is we get distracted and can’t say no to the multitude of even more fantastic instant success deals. If we fail to get a promotion or become a sales celebrity in the first week, the fizzle out factor sets in—we consider it a failure, and dive right into the next instant success scheme. And so, this negative feedback loop keeps repeating itself.

The trouble is, if you don’t stick with anything long enough, how do you gain traction or build momentum? This can apply to jobs, careers, partnerships, diets, exercise plans, friendships or belief systems.

That’s not failure.

That’s lack of perseverance.

When there’s too much emphasis on speed, the messenger of failure is dismissed too soon. And you just keep falling into the same holes.

When you think of it, it’s the personal meaning we assign to the word “failure” that makes it stressful – or not, isn’t it?

“When we’re exploring new territory, failure becomes our navigation system.”

“I learned how not to climb the first four times I tried to summit Everest,” says alpinist Pete Athans, who’s reached the world’s highest peak seven times. “

Steven Spielberg may well have said something similar when he was rejected by the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts – multiple times.

Bill Gates after dropping out of Harvard, started a failed first business with (Microsoft co-founder) Paul Allen called Traf-O-Data. Then went on to perfect his strategy with Microsoft.

At least half a dozen journals—mostly in medicine and conservation—have solicited reports of failed experiments, studies, and clinical trials, proving that “negative” results can eventually give rise to positive outcomes.

Each time we face a new situation, push through the fear, and risk failure—it reprograms us; it makes us braver; it provides positive feedback, generates momentum and enables us to experiment with different strategies.

Here’s what I think FAILURE stands for:

Repeating the same one

And failure can be fun. What would comedians and sitcoms entertain us with if there was no failure? Laugh at yourself when you do a metaphorical belly flop. Tell your children funny stories about mistakes you’ve made and what you learned from them. React calmly when your children make mistakes; your attitude will have a major impact on how they handle theirs in future. Teach them by example – mistakes don’t define who you are; they expand who you are.

And then of course some losses exist to be cut. As all successful people know, there’s a time and place for tenacity. And there’s a time and place for quitting. If a situation isn’t working after repeated efforts, it’s time to re-evaluate and possibly invest your energy in another direction. This is not failing. This is being smart.

“Your past mistakes are meant to guide you, not define you.”

You’re confident because you’ve tried and failed and learned to do it better. You’re smart because you’ve done stupid things. You’re patient, because you’ve suffered the fallout from being impulsive. That’s why often when things seem to be falling apart they’re actually falling into place.

The trick is not to take your failures personally. Approach them with the curiosity of an inventor or explorer now why didn’t that work and how can I improve on my strategy?

Your failures can build confidence – if you don’t allow them to become an indelible mark of shame. Use them for the purpose they were designed for – guidance; part of the success package.

I think we can safely say that failure is a healthy sign—as long as you’re failing forward—rather than backwards.

What do you think?

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2 Responses to What’s the “F” word got to do with stress?

  1. Tamara Williams June 27, 2015 at 5:16 pm #

    Hi Pamina:

    Thanks for another great article! I like your sentence “It’s a miracle we get out of bed in the morning.”.

    I also agree that the Western culture plays a very strong role. I am glad that I no longer watch TV but I still hear the radio and people’s conversations and many fear failure.

    Thanks for sharing some examples of failure because I did not know that Steven Spielberg got rejected so often. Plus I never knew that Gates failed with Traf-O-Data. It always makes me feel better when I hear how often they failed and afterwards they achieved such great successes.

    Glad that our coaching sessions are helping me too so the next time that ‘F’ word pops up I will think about Bill Gates, Colonel Saunders, Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and more.

    I also hope to learn when to use tenacity versus quitting.

    Anyway, just wanted to let you know I am still learning a lot from your blog posts 🙂 !


  2. Pamina June 29, 2015 at 8:29 am #

    So glad you are finding the posts so helpful Tamara!

    Yes, isn’t it funny how we tend to think we hold the franchise on failure? Nobody ever got anywhere without it 🙂

    It’s great to see you making such awesome progress with our online coaching – congratulations on your admirable commitment, courage and perseverance!

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