There’s a huge difference between “I failed at that particular task,” and “I am a failure"

Faith WoodA colleague of mine is a private teacher and she teaches students from ages 11 through adult. Over the years, she’s noticed an interesting trend – young people, for the most part, are resilient when they make mistakes. They typically don’t brood about it, they don’t get too bent out of shape, and they tend to get back on the proverbial horse and give it another go.

Adults, on the other hand, tend to exhibit opposite responses. They bring to their lessons the mistaken belief that just because they’re adults, they should learn faster and their progress should be better than that of a child. In other words, they bring unreasonable expectations to their lessons and this creates a lot of inner conflict.

What do you think? Do you believe that just because you’re an adult you won’t make mistakes?

I’m here to tell you that, child or adult, it doesn’t make any difference one way or the other. Everyone makes mistakes – everyone fails at something. Avoiding mistakes shouldn’t be the objective; rather, we should embrace our mistakes, learn from them and become more adaptive.

When was the last time you heard someone say that he or she “failed” at something? It seems that nowadays the use of the word “fail” is not acceptable. With the exception of politicians and sports commentators, who delight in demonstrating the failings of others, no one wants to point out the glaring truth in certain situations, i.e. that someone failed (or made a mistake).

Several years ago, the language trend seemed to move toward finding the best in each and every life experience, regardless of the situation or outcome. There was the tendency to replace the term “failure” with “learning experience” or even “qualified success.” The result seems to be that no one wants to admit to failure, even if that fact is patently obvious.

Yet what is wrong with admitting to making mistakes, or “heaven forbid” a failure? The next time you try to cook a soufflé and end up with a disgusting mess, why shouldn’t you be able to call a spade a spade? If you use that experience to learn, to move forward, this can be positive and good for the inner conflict that so often shows up in our heads. Let’s get really honest: have any of us succeeded at absolutely everything we have tried?

Using your unsuccessful experiences – your failures – as opportunities for learning and growth is a good thing. Rather than beat yourself up, ask yourself what you learned (I am not a plumber.) and figure out how to do things differently the next time (hire a professional plumber). Failure is not a disease; it simply means not attaining the outcome you were after. You make a mistake or fail: accept it and carry on, thereby demonstrating resiliency, the ability to bounce back. Just remember that there’s a huge difference between “I failed at that particular task,” and “I am a failure.” Just because you didn’t reach a certain goal does not mean you are a failure. It just means you need to shift and give it a go again, differently.

It’s crucial not to let fear of failure stop you from trying something. And especially don’t let that fear prevent you from attempting something difficult. As Albert Einstein said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications. 

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