This is a complex one. And we all do it. We dread that elusive and ever potential reality of being a ‘failure’. It was one of the first things I wrote about, and part of my motivation in writing this blog. I worried so much, for so long, about the ‘what if’s’ when it came to stepping off into a new direction. I am quite ambitious, which has helped to keep those pesky ‘what if’s’ in order, but many times I have worried about the potential of being a failure. One thing we find in our line of business is that we now deal with this question on a daily basis. People come and see us, so excited about the possibility of taking a risk, but quickly following the discussion, there seems to always be ‘that’ moment. The moment that, in my view, will ultimately decide what their future looks like; the moment of fearing failure and subsequently choosing what to do with it.
We all know that we have this same fear, but what does failure actually look like? For everyone, it is different, but ultimately it leads to similar identities; hurt, useless, no good, laughing stock, a weaker or lesser human to those around you. All of these thoughts despite the fact that you actually gave it a go, while many people won’t even attempt to achieve their greatest dreams. It is like all that we seem to care about is whether we eventually live up to the expectation set by those fear mongering peers watching on. Have I hit the nail on the head yet? I know as I write this, I can feel my old self nodding, almost proud to admit that “Yes, this is the truth”. Well I am here to say that it is not. At least, not in my opinion!
What I have found, both on my own journey and the journey of our clients, is that the only thing ‘failure’ has in common across all of us is the story in which we tell ourselves. Now, I love story telling, I have mentioned it before, and for a good reason. It is one of my favourite things in life, to hear and to share a ‘story’. It is the foundation of our history across all cultures and countries; history is offered through word, ideas for the future are manifested through conversation of possibility, and the days events are shared, or usually gossiped about, all through ‘story’. What we don’t seem to realize though is that this story is what shapes our reality. And equally, the stories in which we consciously, or most of the time, subconsciously, tell ourselves is what creates our view on ourselves and on the world around us.
So what do I mean by all this? I have been reading some amazing work by Derren Brown. It's a book called ‘Happy’, which looks at ‘Happiness’; the history of, and formula behind this elusive state. It is an amazing and insightful book, that so far takes in the stories and ideas of some of our most significant philosophers, looks at modern day trends through the ‘self help’ regime that swept the western world, and aims to find some logical meaning in it all, with a few laughs along the way. One thing that has really resonated with me was a quote from the Emperor of Rome, 161-180;
“If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgement of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgement now.” Marcus Aurelius. Meditations, viii.
This quote was part of a greater section in the book which looks for practical solutions to finding this desired state, or at least some contentment in life, and it made me think quite deeply on the subject. If our reality, our perception of the world and all external events, are built on our own story telling, then failure is merely part of this story. This story of failure is nothing more than a narrative that we have written within our subconscious to tell ourselves, “I cannot”. And if it is all only a story, like all great stories in this world, then it can be edited or better yet deleted.
How powerful is that!
Just stop and think about that idea.
The story in which you tell yourself, about why you cannot do something, is not reality, but rather something within your control that you can take power over and change.
Now this insight was one of my more recent, and more personal, 'aha' moments. If we all truly understood this, if we knew that we could feel those emotional reactions to the idea of failure, but rather stop, use some self dialogue to figure out what it is we are telling ourselves in that moment, and then 'edit' or 'delete' that narrative, imagine the type of reality we could create for ourselves. To put it into context further, think about a time when you felt immense fear for something that would see you believing you will fail. Let’s say public speaking, as we all seem to have a bit of a fear for that. You spend the first 2 weeks on the lead up with a worried subconscious; a few days before anxiety begins to build; the day before you can’t think about it without feeling sick and worrying; the morning of the event, you have probably ran a multitude of ways you can avoid doing this speech, then next minute, you are on stage, doing a great job, and NOTHING that you thought would happen, does. And seeing we have all been in a situation like this, remember back to after this moment.. those wonderful, insightful, powerful moments after. Can you remember how you felt? Can you remember that feeling of accomplishment and knowing that you did it, even though every bone in your body (or should I say, every terrible narrative in your mind) told you that you would fail? And yet, here you are on the other side.
So with that I wonder, if you knew you could change that narrative when it first started, would you harness that power? Imagine how much you could achieve knowing that you have the power to just own what you are doing. This takes us back to our original question though - what does failure look like? Well, with these new thoughts, what does failure look like now? If you have changed your narrative, and you have empowered yourself to take ownership over the work you are about to do, or risk you are about to take, then where does failure lie? And if failure does happen to be in that narrative, aren’t you now in a position to tell yourself something different or remove it completely?
The power of our story is far more immense than we allow ourselves to understand. And failure is merely a construct of the story in which we tell ourselves. So with that in mind, knowing that you could remove that fear of 'failure’ from those incredible things in life, and replace them with confidence, acceptance and possibility, what would you do differently?