afraid of failure?

These crazy days have required all of us to adapt in more ways than we ever imagined. We are changing the ways we work, study, shop, travel, play, and interact with each other. However, when we attempt something in a new way, we often feel incompetent, inadequate, and a fear of failure due to our lack of experience.

I don’t like to fail.

At work, we talk a lot about establishing a culture where people feel free to fail. We want people to feel free to innovate and create and attempt things they have never tried before. Disappointingly, despite the desire and communications, we struggle to develop that kind of culture. As I’ve thought about this, I’ve decided that I cannot blame the organization or the leaders for the lack of freedom to fail.  

Failure carries a lot of negative weight.

A quick google search connects the word failure to others like mistakes, quitter, and lack of persistence, conviction, or discipline. Failure is also associated with a lack of thorough planning, fully thinking-it-through, or enough hard work.

With those negative implications, failure will never look appealing or acceptable. No matter how much freedom someone offers me, I do not want to fail.

On the other hand, I can iterate. I can attempt something, evaluate how it went, make corrections or adjustments, and then try again. That is not the same as failure. 

To iterate is simply to repeat. Iterative design involves three steps: formulate, test, evaluate. An iterative process gets closer to the desired result by repeating the effort with necessary improvements. And typically, the more iterations, the better the eventual outcome.

Iteration is positive, progressive, and steps toward the goal. 

Now when I think about trying something new, I think of it as an iteration. There is no pressure or expectation for getting it perfect the first time; it’s a first pass, an experiment. I anticipate evaluating, getting feedback, making changes, and improving the process. That feels like freedom. 

Words are powerful. Maybe changing our message from “free to fail” to “free to iterate” will lighten the load for some people. It might take away the fear of stepping up, leaning in, speaking out, creating, trying something. It could foster new ideas and unheard-of-before ways of doing things that provide answers to our challenges.

If not, I’m willing to iterate and try something else. 

How do you encourage innovation? What frees you to try new things?

 

chasing the wrong goal?

I am a recovering perfectionist. Not fully cured, but getting better every day. I recently made some noticeable progress when I read about the dangers implicit in perfectionism. The article explained that when I try to be perfect, I have believed the lie that I could actually accomplish that goal. I have somehow convinced myself that, with enough hard work or practice or knowledge, I could truly eliminate all mistakes and errors in my life.

Who am I kidding?

I am never going to be perfect.

No matter how hard I try, I am not ever going to do or think or speak perfectly – not ever. To appear perfect, I need to hide my mistakes or lie about them or defensively deny them or isolate myself from anyone who might see them. ( = everyone) The perfectionism goal is very exhausting and basically impossible.

Perfectionism 3Instead of trying for perfect, maybe it makes more sense for me to become more comfortable with being imperfect. Not so surprised or shaken up or shamed by my (continual) missteps. The full acceptance of failure and fallibility would allow me to apologize more easily and offer grace more quickly to others when I see the same mistake-making reality in them.

I still want to grow and improve in certain life areas, but I have determined that growth ≠ closer to perfection. It just equals greater maturity. Maybe a bit more wisdom. Maybe a little nicer. But not closer to perfect.

It is actually a great relief to take the perfectionism burden off of my shoulders. I feel better already.

What wrong goal(s) do you chase after?