I was emailing with a beloved client this week who was concerned about setting herself up for failure by taking on something she might not be ready for.
I said, “It’s not about failing or not failing, it’s about learning what works for you and what doesn’t, and refining until it does.”
She made a great choice to take a midway step toward the thing she was considering.
In the meantime, our conversation got me thinking about failure and our relationship to it.
The Payoff of Incapacity
Then today I started reading Steven Pressfield’s new book, Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work. (If you haven’t read his stuff, don’t wait. He’s amazing.) He says:
“There’s a difference between failing (which is a natural and normal part of life) and being addicted to failure. When we’re addicted to failure, we enjoy it. Each time we fail, we are secretly relieved.”
He argues that when you remain addicted to failure you allow yourself to indulge in the “payoff of incapacity.” And what’s the payoff there? Leaving your talents “unexplored, untried, and unrealized.”
And doesn’t that make sense?
Let’s face it, fulfilling your dreams is wickedly terrifying. What if you do fail? What if you can’t rise to the challenge?
It’s safer not to try. Easier to stay addicted to failure.
But you don’t really want to be a zombie, right?
To me, the risk of not trying is much more costly.
Our culture is filled with shadow people — speaking of zombies, these are the real walking dead — never pursuing their hopes and dreams, selling out for the American dream and not living their own.
We pay with our souls when we don’t do our Work.
Edison Knew Better
In various online sources, the numbers differ about exactly how many times Thomas Edison failed when he attempted to make a light bulb, but there is agreement on one thing: He made so many attempts that most of us would have given up long before he did. LONG before.
His take on the situation was to say that he had not failed, but rather proven that all those other methods did not work.
Design Better Experiments
Which takes me back to my client and the principle I shared with her.
When we choose to see our “failures” as failed experiments, we can design new ones, and see what works better.
Create Better Systems
For example, I have been terrible about filing for years. On Monday it dawned on me that I simply need a better system and that I haven’t completely finished designing that system. I’ve worked on it, it’s better, but it isn’t done. That’s all. It’s not that I’m a bad person or even bad at filing, it’s that I don’t have a workable system yet.
Look at What’s Not Working
As another example, at one point I had a bad system for paying my team too. They would email me their invoices and I would procrastinate about paying them. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, it was that it seemed overwhelming. Sometimes I’d even be worried the invoices would be too high. I’d have to force myself to download and open their invoices, figure out how much I owed them, write the checks, address the envelopes, get them in the mail, etc. I’d do it, but it felt like pulling teeth. I was often late.
Needless to say, no one was very happy about it, so we came up with a new system.
My team members now put their invoice numbers and amounts due in the subject lines of their email messages to me. At a glance, I know exactly how much I owe them. We also made an agreement that I’d pay them no later than 2 days after I receive their invoices. And they all send them on a specific day every other week. I also have sheet of pre-printed address labels for each of them ready to go.
Now, when the time comes, I just whip out my checkbook, write out the checks, drop them in the self-sealing envelopes, decorate them with the address labels and stamps and voilà. Done.
Something I used to dread has become simple and doable, just because I took the time to create a system for it.
This Works for the Big Stuff too
When it comes to the big stuff, your Work, this works too.
For example, if you want to build your business, but you’re not taking steps each day to do that, look at what’s getting in the way and what you’re doing instead.
If you want to write but you think you don’t have the time, look — really, truly LOOK — at what you’re doing with with your time.
If you want to put yourself out there for speaking gigs, getting more clients, doing more art, or going on more auditions, look at what you’re doing, or not doing, to make that happen.
Then create a system to help you overcome the roadblocks you’re unwittingly putting in your own way.
The beauty of taking time to really LOOK at where your systems are breaking down — at where you are “failing” — is that it can make a huge difference in your sense of accomplishment and belief in yourself. Which is so worth the investment.
Share your thoughts. I always love to hear from you.