The Value in Being Wrong
written by Gary Rupert, Leadership Coach & CulturE Strategist for ||:Leaders Creating:||
They say that nothing breeds success like failure. Yet we all hate to fail. Society doesn’t reward defeat, and you are unlikely to find many failures documented in history books. But what if there is purpose beyond falling short of expectations, of failing? What if the purpose of failure is to motivate you to do something different to make your dreams happen? What if you are so focused on not failing that you quit aiming for success, settling instead for mediocrity?
According to Professor Martin Covington of the University of California, Berkeley, the fear of failure is linked directly to our sense of self-worth. To fail to perform then, essentially means that we are not able, and, therefore, not worthy. In Professor Covington’s research, published in his book Making the Grade: A Self-Worth Perspective on Motivation and School Reform, when it comes to dealing with failure, students can be grouped into one of four categories:
Success-Oriented Students: These people are typically life-long learners and see failure as a way to improve as opposed to proof of their lack of self-worth.
Over-Strivers: These people are so fearful of failing that they avoid it at all costs, even if it means exerting themselves beyond what is reasonable expected.
Failure-Avoiding Students: These students do not even expect to succeed. But they also simultaneously dread failing, so they do the bare minimum or try to blend in. This strategy rarely, if ever, is effective.
Failure-Accepting Students: These people have basically already accepted defeat and failure as their reality. These students are very difficult to motivate because they see failure as connected to their sense of self-worth.
Failure can be an upsetting and demoralizing experience. It can alter your perception and make you believe things that simply are not true. In his recent book entitled Embrace the Suck: The Navy Seal Way To An Extraordinary Life, author Brent Gleeson suggests that unless you learn to respond to failure in adaptive ways, it can paralyze you and limit your likelihood of success moving forward. He offers what he calls Eight Failure Realities that you must understand in order to get comfortable being uncomfortable:
Reality 1: Failure makes the same goal seem less attainable. People who fail believe their challenges are somehow more difficult than the challenges of those who succeed.
Reality 2: Failure alters your perception of your abilities. It can make us doubt our skills, intelligence, desirability, and capabilities.
Reality 3: Failure can make you feel helpless. When we allow ourselves to be convinced that we are helpless, we successfully avoid future failures. But that is actually what makes you a failure — when you listen to the voices and rob yourself of future success.
Reality 4: A failure experience can cause a fear of failure complex. Rather than working on improving their ability, skills, or approach to succeeding at something, people head back into their comfort zone.
Reality 5: Fear of failure often leads to unconscious self-sabotaging. Like the college student who decides to stay out drinking until 2:00 a.m. before a big job interview, he “knows” he will bomb. These kinds of behaviors can turn into self-fulfilling prophecies and increase potential for future failure.
Reality 6: The pressure to succeed increases performance anxiety, causing choking. Therefore, proper preparation is the bedrock of achievement and the most powerful tool for overcoming performance anxiety.
Reality 7: Willpower is like a muscle — it needs both training and rest. When you feel fatigue and your willpower fading, be sure to rest and be willing to revisit your motivations once you have nourished your willpower muscles.
Reality 8: The healthiest response to failure is focusing on what you can control. Failure can result in focusing primarily on the cause of our current adversity. We look backwards instead of forward, often focusing more on things over which we have no control.
So how do we move ourselves from the failure-accepting to success-oriented level of Professor Covington’s failure dealing scale? How do we overcome the Failure Realities as identified by former Navy Seal Brent Gleeson? It begins with our ability to reframe our understanding of the role failure plays in our lives. In her 2016 article “Failure = Motivation”, Dr. Amy Ashmore offers the following four steps for turning failure into success:
Find the lesson — Failure teaches us lessons that success never can. Failure causes us to question our self-worth, efforts, and even the value of our lives. When we are successful, we rarely even consider these.
Crush mediocrity — When you fail, it means you have taken a risk. You went BIG and fell a little short. Mediocrity will not lead you to greatness. Failure at big goals increases your chances more than success with conservative goals.
Vow to be brave — Your commitment to your dream must be greater than your fears and desire to protect yourself.
Redefine your dream — Whether you are prepared for it or not, failure happens. It is a huge part of success. There will be struggles. But as former President Franklin D. Roosevelt reminds us, “a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”
Failure and defeat are perhaps, life’s greatest teachers. Most of us eventually accept that failure is a reality of life and essential for growth. But why, when we intellectually acknowledge that failure can be turned into opportunity, are we so afraid of it? I will leave you with this insightful quote from Kathryn Schultz in Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error:
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Gary L. Rupert was a music educator for 40 years and was most recently the Band Director at Smithsburg High School in Smithsburg, Maryland where his bands consistently achieved Superior ratings at local, state and national levels. He is a sought-after conductor and adjudicator in the areas of symphonic bands and jazz ensembles. An avid blogger whose daily entries are followed by people in over 57 countries, Mr. Rupert is the author of a daily inspirational book for students and teachers, “Today, No Every Day.” He is also a sought after speaker on leadership, motivation and creating a positive learning environment.
Gary Rupert has been named an Outstanding Maryland Music Educator, a Teacher of Excellence in both the Frederick and Washington County public schools, and has been twice nominated as a Disney Teacher of Excellence.
Gary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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