Failure. To many people, including me, that is a very dirty word. We don’t like to fail. Failing is bad. We look on failure as a negative reflection of ourselves. When we fail we are somehow lesser, unworthy. This is something that I have been struggling a lot with lately. Every time I set a goal and fail to complete it I look at myself as a failure. The problem with this is, when I feel like a failure, then I expect to fail again in the future, and as I fulfill this self-fulfilling prophecy I grow more and more depressed with myself for failing and eventually stop trying all together. This is a vicious cycle.
The past two weeks or so have been especially bad because I got sick. I got absolutely nothing done. I failed. Trying to pick the pieces back up and get motivated to reset my goals, keep going and try again in this new week is harrrrrrrd. What if I fail again? What if I still don’t get everything I want done? Then I will be even more behind and I will never be able to catch up! Do you see the problem with this thinking?
I recently had a conversation with someone about the way we define failure. For me, whether or not I am a failure is attached to an outcome. If I accomplish ‘A,’ then I have found success, if I do not, then I have failed. Looking back over my life I was able to see that I have always defined failure in this way. If I got less than an A or B in school I had failed, if I got less than a Superior rating on my solo I had failed, if I did not keep a clean house I had failed…the list goes on and on.
For most of my life this definition of failure was not much of an issue. School came easy for me, I have always done pretty well at my jobs – I did okay with an outcome based definition of failure. But somewhere along the way things changed. I got married and placed expectations on myself as a wife – like keeping a clean house and cooking – that I was NOT good at. Then I decided to start writing and I set goals for when I would get things done, but as I have mentioned before I am a professional procrastinator and these self-imposed deadlines continue to pass me by unfulfilled. In other words, I keep failing.
Then the person I was talking to said something revolutionary: Why don’t you come up with a different definition of failure? Instead of defining failure by the successful completion of a task, define it by whether or not you try at all. By looking at it this way, if I pick up all the dirty dishes, but don’t have time to get the dusting done, I have still succeeded because I tried and did what I could. If I set a goal to write 3000 words, but am only able to write 1000 that’s okay, I still succeeded because I took the time to write something. If I had not even tried because I knew I wouldn’t have time to get it all done, that would have been the failure.
This is an interesting idea. It goes completely against my way of thinking about things for myself. I don’t have to think twice about giving similar advice or words of encouragement to a friend, but for me? Nope. I don’t give myself that luxury. And I’m not sure why. Growing up, my mother was never one to emphasize the outcome. She always told me and my sister that as long as she saw us trying our hardest it didn’t matter what grade we got in school, even if it was an F. So I am not really sure how that message got reversed in my own thought patterns, but it did.
I know that if I can change my way of thinking to adopt this different definition of failure that it would actually help with the outcomes I currently struggle so much with. I know that this change in thinking will not happen overnight, but I am going to try. I am going to be more conscious of the way I view failure and whether that view serves to motivate me or shackle me. No matter how long it takes, I already know that I am not a failure at it because I am making the choice to take the risk and try. That is success.
How do you define failure? Does your outlook on success and failure motivate or shackle you? Do you get caught in the vicious cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy? Let me know in the comments.