Failing Forward

Failure is such an ugly word with so many negative connotations. We fail classes, fail to meet expectations, fail at relationships, fail to come to a complete stop, etc. etc.

Failure. Blech. It just leaves us with bad feelings and wounded self-esteem.

The ironic thing is, failure usually teaches us so more than success. When everything is going great and you’re ‘winning’ you can typically only guess and surmise at the reasons for your success. Sometimes, success is just a matter of being at the right place at the right time – and maybe knowing the right people. There’s probably some hard work and preparation in there somewhere and maybe some hard to define combinations of circumstances, timing, people and attitudes. It’s hard to say what the success recipe is. It’s ‘murky.’

Failure, however, offers a level of clarity that almost achieves the status of an epiphany; blinding insights and poetic laments – often with wine (or whine). Maybe it’s the pain that accompanies failure that makes the analysis so clear; that cause and effect element. Maybe it’s the fact that we think about and dwell upon a failure so much more than a success; we learn from it. We learn where we went wrong and what we would do differently, and in the end we are stronger and wiser for having tried and failed.

Scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs, athletes and innovators have been saying it for decades; failing and learning ultimately creates the conditions for success.

Why would it be any different in non-profit, human services and social innovation?

Not trying is probably the only real failure. We need to fail. So do it – fail hard and repeatedly but never stop learning and never stop trying. We should celebrate and share our failures – they’re teaching us everything we need to know to succeed.

Share your best professional failure with us at our ‘Epic Fails and Cocktails’ session at the 2016 National Supported Employment Conference in Edmonton, June 14 – 16.