Permission to Fail

By Nicki Leaper 2023-05-06 15:41:51

Failure is often something that’s frowned upon. And we’re often hardest on ourselves, beating ourselves up for the smallest slip.

When we’re afraid of failure, we become rigid and inflexible. Our thinking becomes black and white: this is right and that is wrong. We avoid interesting and exciting challenges because anything that has an uncertain outcome is a no-go zone. Fear of failure also limits our creativity, as we won’t risk putting anything out there that might invite criticism. We don’t share our thoughts and talents, we keep ourselves small. And we procrastinate, putting off taking the first step on things we really care about for fear of making a misstep.

But what if we accepted that a ‘FAIL’ was actually a First Attempt In Learning? Not a bad thing at all. In fact, a step in the right direction.

Professor Carol Dweck’s research into ‘growth mindset’ fundamentally changed educational philosophy. A fixed mindset has us believing that we’re either good at something or we’re not, and if we’re not, then we shouldn’t even bother trying.

When we adopt a growth mindset we realise that failure is an opportunity to grow. With a growth mindset, our self-esteem is built on the belief that our abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. It’s about learning to fail well. Taking each failure as an opportunity to reflect and learn. Knowing that learning from failure is what leads to eventual success.

Striving to be your best

Shirzad Chamine, author of Positive Intelligence, details how perfectionism is a strength (high standards, self-disciplined, a desire for order). It’s just a strength that you’ve pushed too far, to the point that it now actually damages your mental fitness and health.

So what’s the shift that needs to be made? What’s the difference between striving to be your best and wanting to be perfect?

The simplest explanation I have come across is: Perfectionism is about the fear of failure, while striving to be your best is about the urge for success.

Perfectionism is other focused. “What will ‘they’ think?” It’s about avoiding the pain of judgement and blame. It’s about trying to earn approval and acceptance and trying to manage other people’s perceptions is both impossible and exhausting.

Striving to be your best is ‘self’ focused. It’s about healthy achievement and growth. “What can I learn? How can I improve?” Striving to be your best requires courage, connection, creativity and hard work, to extend yourself to reach your full potential. It allows you to celebrate the small wins along the way and to treat yourself with compassion, whether the goal is met or not. As Brené Brown says, “It’s giving yourself credit for getting out there and trying at all”.