Patience, Paradigms, & Parachutes; Thoughts On How To Fail Successfully
If you have lived life long enough to have failed at something, you have almost always been given the opportunity to ask the question, “What did I learn from that?” I qualify that statement with “almost always” because sometimes a mistake is, unfortunately, our last one. For instance, a few years ago I spent my son’s 18th birthday descending at a rate of 125 miles per hour after jumping out of a perfectly good airplane from 13,000 feet! It was a true rush – surreal! But had I failed to open my parachute – that failure would have quickly ended up in there being no more me!
Because I remembered to open my parachute, I was rewarded with more chances to make mistakes that allow me to learn and grow! And that’s exactly how I try to live. Even when an incredible adrenalin-filled personal success like remembering to open my parachute is achieved, I make every effort to remember that there are no guarantees in life, and the next challenge is somewhere down the road and maybe even waiting for me immediately after a successful “landing!”
So if you’re are reading this, I’m assuming that like the rest of us you have likely failed at something in your life, and you’ve managed to operate your proverbial “parachute” and survived that failure. Congratulations!
Now that we’ve established that you are indeed alive and still exist, I’d like to ask you to do something that might be slightly outside of your comfort zone. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Your comfort zone is overrated”? If not, you have now. You’re welcome. 🙂 So go ahead and close the door, pull down the shades, and turn off and tune out any possible distractions as best you can.
Now think of a time when you have failed in your life at something. This shouldn’t be too difficult, as most of us fail at multiple things daily! When you settle in on that one thing that you’ve labeled as a failure, close your eyes and try to remember as much as you can about it. Relive the experience in your mind in detail, and repeat that experience in your mind several times if you wish. Your goal is to remember as much detail as you can about that “failure” and recreate the scenario thoughtfully so that you are truly back in that moment remembering as much as you can about that set of circumstances. Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and see if you can actually connect with the emotions that you felt during that time. Take as long as you’d like to do this, and then open your eyes and continue reading. I’ll wait! 🙂
Done? Great. I’m sure, for whatever reason, some of you chose to think about a small failure while others may have chosen a rather large failure. It really makes no difference what you chose, because whatever it was you are still here! Even though your experience may have turned your life upside down and sent you sailing into a completely different direction than you ever imagined, you survived. Your beautiful ever-loving soul is still present. Why? Because you are a SURVIVOR, not a failure!
So let’s agree on something together right now, ok? We are going to deliberately execute some hands-off surgery. Think of it as a “spiritual lobotomy” in which we are going to remove both the concept and word(s) of failure completely from your brain. Don’t worry, just as you can live without one of your kidneys, you can live quite well without the negative concept, words, and phrases all associated with failure. As a matter of fact, we are going to go one step further with this spiritual lobotomy and replace “failure” with “learn from our mistakes” and “optimism.” Of course, the standard procedure includes inserting courage, wisdom, self-awareness, and forgiveness for self and others. That’s just how we roll here at Soden’s Inc.
I hope my analogy has struck a chord with you. In education, we refer to this as a paradigm shift: a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions. If you see failures as a defeat, that may become, or already is your habit. Ultimately, our habits begin to define who we are. Can you think of anyone you know whose consistent perspective on life is “defeat?” I can. These are not happy people. The habit of seeing every “failure” as a curse, no matter how big or small that failure may be, clouds their vision and blocks their ability to be happy. It becomes darn near impossible to live in the present and be optimistic about your future. Think of the toddler who accidentally drops a cup of milk on the kitchen floor. If mom or dad’s reaction is consistently anger and frustration, that toddler inherits the behavior that is modeled.
Think of the toddler who accidentally drops a cup of milk on the kitchen floor. If mom or dad’s reaction is consistently anger and frustration, that toddler inherits the behavior that is modeled. Reversely, if mom or dad’s reaction is consistent, “Oops! Looks like you had an accident! Let’s clean that up and make sure we try to remember to put that cup of milk over here next time,” then that is the modeled behavior they inherit.
What we learn early on creates and reinforces our habits, and the idea that failure = defeat is something we often transfer to how we treat ourselves when the inevitable challenges come along.
Challenges will come and go, that’s a guarantee. We can also say pretty confidently that we will not always, especially in the moment, choose idealistic positive behavior and reactions to “failures.” But when we make a conscious paradigm shift, a change of mindset from labeling and seeing mistakes as failures to instead identifying them as opportunities to learn and grow, our entire life will change.
I wish I could tell you that it was as easy visiting the doctor and having a medical procedure done, but I can’t. The truth is, the concept of failure disappears over time if you consciously practice optimism. Purposeful practice is a disciplined self-awareness that eventually replaces a bad habit with a better one. It’s a paradigm shift that is completely attainable to even the most pessimistic among us. It not only changes how you feel and see yourself, but it changes the perception that others have of you and how they feel about you as well. You become more likable! Unless you are already a completely self-actualized person (I’ve never met one), practicing a positive mindset with a purpose in our daily “failures” changes you for the better. You’ll transform from Scrooge on Christmas Eve to the Scrooge on Christmas morning! And it won’t take three ghost visits to develop that change!
Your spiritual lobotomy aftercare plan will also include constant self-evaluation, vulnerability, self-honesty, and some risk taking. Without that kind of thoughtful and genuine nurturing of your mind and heart, the odds are good that you will slip back into old patterns and ways of thinking, preventing the personal growth and happiness that you deserve. So understand that this is a process and a journey, and there will be traps along the way that will test your adherence to the prescribed plan. You might even relapse into once again believing that you have failed or are a failure in some way. But I’m telling you now, friends, there is no such thing as failure. There is only learning, love, and growth.
Practice habits that form a positive mindset, and you will learn how to “fail” successfully. And never forget to open your parachute!
Peace, my friends,