practice failing

Everyone knows that the way to innovate, grow and become smarter is to fail.

Fail more, fail better, fail smarter, fail wisely – experts agree that if you want to succeed, you need to be willing to fail.

Which is great. I get that, intellectually.

But how do you actually DO it?

Because no matter how strongly you believe in it’s importance, or how many strong words you put next to it, the fact remains that actually failing is scary as hell. We are socially wired to avoid failure at all costs for fear of being banished from the tribe and left out in the wilderness to die (though if you find yourself in that scenario, reading Clan of the Cave Bear and asking yourself, what would Ayla do? will go a long ways towards assuring your survival).

From author Jean Auel’s website:

In Ayla’s story readers find what very well may be the story of human survival, for it is by wit, instinct, adaptation, and gathering knowledge that Ayla thrives among a people who are not like her, in a society that sees her as strange, in a world where elements, animals, and the enmity of others make surviving each day a challenge.

Anyway, point is, many of us avoid failure in high stakes situations, because when the stakes are high, you are in survival mode, and survival mode tells you it is imperative that you not fail, that you fit in, that you win. But as Ayla would tell you, this is exactly the situation when having a good relationship with your fear of failure can help you. Because here is the thing:

Failure is a potential – even likely – outcome, no matter WHAT you do.

You can’t control when and where it will rear it’s head.

What you can control is your response to it.

So for instance, if you find yourself alone with a bear and your slingshot misfires, you are in much better shape if you have experienced a misfire many, many times before. If you have only operated your slingshot (I have no idea what a slingshot is exactly or if it can misfire, but let’s stay with this metaphor anyway) under optimal conditions, then you will have no idea what to do when it doesn’t work.

It is avoidance of failure that can get you killed, and it is being on good terms with failure that can help you survive.

So, back to our original question: HOW to get on good terms with failure?

I think the way to do this is to practice failing when the stakes are low. To embrace it when you aren’t, say, starting a new job or putting your savings account on the line or moving to a brand new city.

This Sunday, I am offering space to do just that, in my “I’m the Worst” workshop.

We are going to not merely be OKAY with failure, to TOLERATE our mistakes. We are going to try our hardest to make them, in the biggest, boldest, dumbest way possible.

 We are going to celebrate failure.

We are going to fail over and over again.

We are going to see what it means to win at losing.

We aren’t going to do this because we enjoy looking like jackasses (though we might enjoy it a little bit). We are going to do this so we can encounter that fear, dance with it, and get to know it. We are going to do this so we are well acquainted with falling.

Have you ever watched a baby learn how to walk? There is a LOT of falling involved. Like way more than seems reasonable. A lot of tipping over and lurching and bumping into things and tripping and getting stuck. And then, slowly, they learn how to balance their weight, how to right themselves, how to measure their footsteps, when to jump and when to shuffle, how to recover their balance gracefully – how not to fall.

That is what we are going to do! Spend two hours falling and failing. (And if you can’t be there in person, you can play along at home by failing at something low-stakes this week and seeing how it feels. You could tell a bad joke at a party. You could wear an ugly outfit around the house. You could wear it out dancing. You could dance like Elaine. The options are limitless.)

Then maybe next time we find ourselves in a high stakes situation, we can go into it thinking, hey, I’ve failed before, it’s not so bad.

I’m going to spend two minutes being awkward at this party and then I’m going to find someone I like talking to and we will hit it off.

I’m going to sweat too much, talk too fast and make a dumb joke in this job interview, and then I’m going to ask some good questions and show them I know what I’m talking about.

I’m going to spend 6 weeks (or months) having nightly panic attacks in my empty apartment and going to random coffee shops and the wrong bars before I find the right ones and figure out where my people are.

See what I mean? If you’re ready for it, it’s a little less scary. If you’ve experienced flop sweat and survived, you know it’s not as life threatening as you think it is.

So let’s do this!



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