By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
As a therapist, the topic of failure comes up often in my work both with adults and with children/teens and their families. Over time, the topic of failure and redefining failure has become something that I am very passionate about. Part of this comes from my own personal history, as well as from my work with those grappling with their fears of failure or experiences they believe are failures.
Personally, I like to say that I am a “recovering perfectionist” because, well I work hard to defeat some of my perfectionistic tendencies, one of which is to fear and avoid failure. As a child, I often felt like a failure simply because I viewed myself in many ways as not good enough. This feeling was deeply connected, as perfectionism often is, to a deeper, underlying feeling of shame. Interestingly, the experiences that I have had through my life that have allowed me to grow and really work on my perfectionism, shame, and fear of failure have been horribly painful and difficult at the time. At times, I believe that I have most certainly failed during these experiences and while I would not necessarily “choose” them again, I can reflect on the growth and understanding they have brought to my life and believe they were worth it.
I find that these are also the experiences that allow me to relate so much with my clients. So many of my lovely, amazing clients have experienced the same feelings and fears of failure and these experiences have allowed me to grow into the therapist that I am, who can hopefully support and help them through these feelings and fears because I have truly been there. Walking with my clients through this experience is still one of the most profound experiences I have in my work.
So, that is a bit of the long, and personal, story of why I am passionate about redefining failure. I believe that if more of us believed that failure was an essential part of life, that it is productive and helpful, and not the worst thing in the world – we would as a whole be happier, more productive, and more resilient to deal with our failures. The truth is, we are all flawed as humans and we are going to fail and screw up and totally miss the mark sometimes. Isn’t it time that we accepted that and moved on rather than continued to punish and blame ourselves for our failures?
I love this quote by Michael Jordan where he talks about his failures and how they ultimately led to his successes. So often, it is the failure that leads us to success and there are so many famous stories that show this.
So, how can we as flawed humans view failure differently? I believe that we can think about and talk about failure differently for a start in the right direction. For example, we can look for the lesson and the opportunity to grow in every failure. I imagine that when Michael Jordan missed game winning shots, he spent very little time belaboring the pain of the miss and more time evaluating what could have been different and what he needed to learn to do better next time. If we start looking at every failure as an opportunity to learn something crucial for our success, it will likely feel differently and a lot less scary.
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