Turning Failure Into a Positive

“It’s okay to fail.”  It’s still hard for me to accept that; and for most JMOs in the Cameron-Brooks program and for Cameron-Brooks alumni, I imagine that is true as well.  It takes a tremendous amount of maturity, self-insight and self-confidence to handle failure the correct way.

Here is what I have learned about failure.

1.  If I don’t occasionally fail, it means I am not setting high enough goals.  Those who have seen me before, know that I am a body builder.  Just kidding!  However, I do lift weights 3 times a week for exercise.  To get the maximum benefit, I have to conduct weight lifting exercises that really fatigue my muscles. Sometimes I go to failure.  This means I have gone beyond my comfort zone, the easy part.

2.  Failure can lead to a few steps backward but eventually to growth.  Using my weightlifting analogy again, when I hit failure, I back off 10  to 15 lbs then the following week  work my way back up.  Within a week or two I surpass the point where I previously failed.  (I know, those of you who really know me have to be thinking, “You don’t look like you know anything about weightlifting.”)  Failing in business, the military, leadership, or another endeavor is the same when you stop and evaluate the failure, identify what happened/what went wrong, and apply the lesson.  Initially, it takes time to  recover from the failure, but you will carry that lesson into the future and be that much stronger.

3. Failure requires self-confidence.  Once again, in weightlifting, when I lift weights I am not trying to impress people with how much I lift but rather focus on my form, health and fitness.  I am not afraid to fail with less weight than the person next to me in the gym.  I use this same philosophy to approach my work.  When a project or conversation with a company or JMO candidate doesn’t meet expectations or achieves poor results, I take time to analyze why, and this includes asking peers and superiors for their insight.  Is it initially frustrating, maddening, disappointing or embarrassing to fail?  Absolutely.  I am a perfectionist, but improving has become more important than impressing others.

4.  I share failures just like I share successes.  I am constantly sharing lessons I learned from my failures with teammates at Cameron-Brooks, our candidates and my children.  I do this for several reasons.  First, I learned from other people who shared their failures with me.  I didn’t have to make their mistakes, and instead I am making new ones!  Second, it lets others know it is okay to fail.  Third, sharing failures can lift others.  I know that last is unique but I find it helps others to see that they are not alone, “To err is human.”

Here is a link to a GREAT and short video from the Wall Street Journal about failure.  This link inspired me to write this post.  http://m.wsj.net/video/20091013/101309dysonfailure/101309dysonfailure_320k.mp4

Joel Junker