Too often, we hear the words from the Apollo 13 story “Failure is not an option!” and apply it to our lives. In my years of professional and personal experience, that is a big mistake. I have learned that to fail is not only human (i.e. we all do it), but it is healthy and promotes growth. At least it does if we view it in the right perspective. Let me begin with a true life analogy.
Several months ago a good friend convinced me to really focus on lifting weights as a way to stay healthy. I have had many periods of my life where I went to the gym and lifted weights as part of a health routine, but it never really stuck. Also I never had anyone talk to me about how to lift to change or improve my body. My friend had been into weightlifting in his past and wanted someone to help him stay committed to lifting again, so I agreed even though I am twenty years older than him. We meet five days a week, working different muscle groups each day. More importantly, we are pushing ourselves to lift more weight for a few repetitions each time.
To grow strength and build muscle mass, you have to push yourself. We started in February of this year and in that time the average weight increase over all exercises is 85% from where I started. For instance, I started bench press struggling at 140# and now press over 200#. I started leg press at 350# and can push 700#. These are not powerlifting levels - but I am happy with the improvement both in strength and how I feel.
The point I want to make is that I did it by failing. Our routine is to try to lift heavy for three sets of six reps.To push our limit. If I am doing it right, I don’t make it. I fail shy of the six reps. I have had many times that I couldn’t lift the bar back onto the rack without help. However, I found that the next time I could do more reps or more weight. My muscles grew stronger by pushing them to the limit.
As I look at my life, I see times I didn’t step out because I feared failure. I allowed fear to stop me from growing. I also see times where I failed and stopped trying. Again, I allowed fear of failure to stop me. I can testify that failure can destroy you, if you let it. But I also believe it can make you stronger and better.
To grow, we have to take risks. We must be courageous. I have taken many risks professionally in my career. I have taken new positions to offer new service lines within a company or to even create new products. I have put myself out there and at times failed, but more often I succeeded. When I did fail, I brushed myself off and got back up again. I looked back at why and how I could change my approach. Today I have my own company and am working to build a new business. It is risky and difficult. I am scared and have already stumbled, but I am still going.
We have to fail sometimes. But we need to view the failures as learning opportunities. It is important to look at why or how we fail and learn what not to do, or even how to do things better. Sometimes we even need a little help lifting the bar to reset and begin again. But each time we get stronger, not weaker. We have to learn some lessons the hard way. The key is to learn. By learning and growing we can succeed.
I like something I heard recently from Dr. Brene Brown - she said that to Risk and to Rise are important. Not that we avoid falling or that it doesn’t hurt when we do, but that we continue to rise up again and again. Further that we challenge the why and the how and rewrite our approach in order to avoid falling the same way again. Her perspective is one based upon years of research into shame, vulnerability, authenticity, and, of course, resilience. She has become one of my favorite authors because her results are mirrored in my life.
I don’t think we can avoid falling or failing if we are living and growing. I have many failures in my life. But, as I take inventory of where I am today, I believe I am a better person because of them. My failures were often painful and impacted the lives of those around me. But I can say honestly that if I had not failed, I would not understand Integrity, Authenticity, Compassion and Love.
So my challenge to you… Don’t be afraid to fail, push yourself, be courageous and when you fall, and you will, get back up, dust yourself off, learn, grow, and push forward again.