This is a guest post by Larry Scott at StarLightWalker
If you are anything like me, the idea of failure conjures up all sorts of negative images and feelings. Indeed, one of the hardest lessons for me to learn (and one that I must admit that I am still in the process of learning) has been the understanding the fact that failing at a particular task does not mean that I am a failure.
I am not sure where this tendency to identify myself with the outcome of my efforts originally came from, but there is no doubt that it is a deeply ingrained, habitual pattern of evaluating myself and the world. For as far back as I can remember I have always had a sense of needing to “earn” love and acceptance - by getting good grades in school, merit badges in Boy Scouts, and later in life through promotions and salary increases at work.
Within this worldview my value as a person was not something intrinsic; rather, it was tied to my achievements, and as a result there was a strong sense that success made me a better person and failure made me a worse person. The power was in success, not failure. Given this habitual perceptual frame, it takes persistence and an almost stubborn optimism to remind myself that I am not my outcomes!
Results do not equal value
When you step back and examine the premise of this worldview, it becomes apparent that there is something insidiously self-sabotaging in the agreements that support its structure. In what way could failure – whether at school, at work, or even at play – cause me to be a worse person? And for that matter, why would success have the power to cause me to be a better person?
What linkage is there between my ability to perform a task or achieve a goal and my worth as a person? When you give it a bit a thought, it becomes clear that this premise is absurd. My value as a person has nothing to do with whether or not I succeed or fail at a particular task.
Self worth is not accomplishment
The absurdity of the idea of earning value through success becomes particularly clear if we apply it to very specific examples. Am I a better person if I am successful at badminton and a worse person if I fail to hit the birdie? Am I somehow a better person if I succeed at making a soufflé?
If it is clear in these instances that the entire premise of the statement is nonsense, why would we buy into this worldview when the subject is the grades I get in school, the level of income I earn, or the job title I have at work? Yet how many of us, particularly success-driven self-improvement nuts like me, have bought into these kind of beliefs?
Failure can stimulate personal growth
In the realm of personal growth, my experience is that failure and crisis have the power to stimulate growth whereas success tends to limit the opportunity for growth. When we succeed there is little pressure to examine our ideas or behaviors, as the fact that we are succeeding indicates that our current strategies and tactics are working. As a result, when we are on a roll – succeeding – we tend to repeat our behaviors in an effort to maintain the status quo.
As a result, while these periods may exhibit incremental growth and improvement they very seldom precipitate radical breakthroughs or transformation. Rather it is failure that is the harbinger of dramatic growth and transformation.
When we fail we tend to ponder, to re-examine our strategies and tactics – and in so doing we are often forced to question the core assumptions and beliefs that are the foundation and basis for our current life strategies. Failure urges us to question the foundational concepts of ourselves and our world, and in so doing encourages us to expand our perspective. And it is in this questioning of our preconceived views that miracles and magic occur.
How do you view achievement and failure?
Do you find yourself linking results to self worth?
What’s your response to this article?