Lessons from Failure

Oct 3rd, 2010 | By | Category: abundance, application, aptitude, Career advice, career challenges, career choice, career choices, challenges, competitive peers, fear, mentor, negativity, office problems, peers, personality, persuasion, problem, self confidence, skills, strategy, success, tactics

PrcticaL Mentor

One of the greatest clichés is that there are no mistakes or failures only learning opportunities.  While I do believe we learn from our mistakes, I am not sure that we always learn the most beneficial lessons.  More often the lesson we take away is DON’T TRY THAT AGAIN!, instead of learning how to succeed next time.

Perhaps it is the potential rewards of success and severity of the consequences of failure that determines the lessons we take away from the experience. For example, when learning to walk most infants fall repeatedly and encounter more than a few bumps and bruises, but the failed attempts and the physical discomfort does not deter the will to learn to walk.  On the other hand, often when a child is experiences an accident or is frightened it may develop an avoidance defense that is carried into adulthood.  For example, a child that grabs a lit birthday candle may carry a fear of fire or being burned indefinitely; while others who have a similar experience take away a respect but not a fear of fire.  So what makes the difference between taking several hard falls while learning to walk, and singed fingers from grabbing a lit candle? Perhaps it is the reaction of the parents and others. When a child falls learning to walk they are met with encouragement and consolation to try again, when a child grabs a lit candle there is usually negative and sometimes punitive reaction on the part of the parents.  Sometimes parents will smack the child’s hand when they see them reaching for an open flame and state very loudly that it is a bad thing to do.  Never do they encourage the child to try again.  Perhaps this same type of conditioning is carried into our career and workplace situations.

One of the most used illustrations of learning through failure is Edison’s effort to invent a viable electric light bulb.  Edison own accounts indicate that it took over 10,000 different tries until he found a suitable filament for a light bulb.  In my opinion, this example is similar to the learning to walk experience.  Where there is a positive goal with a perceived achievable reward.  There was also great public interest and competition to be the first to succeed.  This same scenario plays out over and over again with inventions, and breaking records.  The direct application to career and workplace situations may not always be as clear.

There are also countless accounts, fables, and stories of those who tried and failed: and their punishment was so severe as to warn them and others not to attempt any thing like that again.  These stories and account usually have a harsh dose of peer pressure and social ridicule associated with them.  Like the little boy who cried wolf who was finally eaten by a wolf because he had exhausted his credibility with false claims of danger.  This same tactic is often used in the workplace.  In most of the places I worked, there were stories of employees who met with disaster in their careers for challenging the status quo, or being assertive and competitive.  Some of us may have experienced this first hand, when trying to move ahead in our careers.  This negative re-enforcement from management and peers tends to quickly instill the lesson of the lit candle and that you should not try again. This is the type of situation that undermines our confidence and initiative develop a new strategy and  try again.

The task of picking ourselves up and trying again is not easy.  Like the physical bumps and bruises encountered while learning to walk, it takes some time to heal, and rebuild our confidence.  A mentor or supportive friend is a real plus in regaining our desire to achieve our goal and try again.  These scenarios are more like those of Edison’s light bulb analogy where there was faith in an achievable goal, and accompanied by positive support.  The real challenge comes when the lesson is perceived to be that of the lit candle, where the lesson seems to be “DON’T TRY THAT AGAIN.”  In these cases we are usually alone to figure out whether the real lesson is “DON’T TRY THAT AGAIN” or that a new strategies and tactics are required.  Once you bang your head into a brick wall you can find away around the wall or sit where you are, there is no future in banging you head repeatedly against a brick wall.  (You need a different plan) This is the dilemma that we often encounter in trying to achieve our goals.  Instead of analyzing the situation to accurately determine whether it is better to develop an avoidance strategy, or to develop a more effect positive strategy to achieve our goals.  There are countless stories of people who encountered failure and gave up.  There are fewer stories of people who encountered failure and tried until they succeeded.  It could be that we too often learn the wrong lesson from our failures,

The PracticaL Mentor.

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