A small issue or a major problem?
I went to get my Warrant of Fitness the other day and came away with the dreaded ‘F’ word – fail. It got me thinking about what failure really means. I regularly meet people for whom failure is a very scary word, scary enough to stop them starting, and scary enough to cause all sorts of avoidance behaviours. Then when they do fail at a task, it can be devastating, somehow meaning that they themselves are a failure, rather than having failed at one specific task only.
Looking at my car makes it easier to see what is really going on. Failing a warrant is simply an indication that something (or in this case, two things) are not quite as they should be. It’s not an indication that the whole system needs to be scrapped. Instead, it’s simply an indication that something in the system needs adjustment or improvement. It’s tempting to focus on these negatives and blow them up into something big, but actually, this particular test gives us other information too – that the rest of the car is running perfectly, yet this is something that often gets overlooked as we focus on the areas of failure.
We can learn from this. People often see failure as a sign that the whole system is defective, i.e. that they themselves are a failure, are somehow not good enough or incapable. In contrast, the failure is actually a sign that an improvement or adjustment needs to be made somewhere - it’s simply a matter of figuring out where that is. In addition, it’s useful to keep the failure in perspective by looking at the whole picture. Looking outside the failure will most likely show that the vast majority of the system is working well, i.e. that the rest of your life is going well, that you are healthy, that you have a great job or career, and that you have great people in your life.
With those things in mind, it could be useful to reframe how we are thinking of failure in the first place. Instead if thinking in terms of failure, you could instead think in terms of ‘areas where you can make improvements’, ‘opportunities for learning’ or ‘feedback’. Changing the terminology around this can change the way you think about it, and therefore the way you respond to it.