Tups for Celebrating Failure

Celebrating Failure

Celebrating Failure

The more you fail, the more likely you are to succeed.

What do grape growing and human development have in common? It's all about resiliency, baby.

The process of growing remarkable grapes mirrors the human experience of "developing character" in many ways. Cultivating grapes with depth and intense flavor doesn’t come from the easy to grow landscapes of fertile soil, plentiful sunshine and bountiful rainfall. No, what really makes a remarkable grape is rugged, rocky soil, on a hill or mountainside that most other crops couldn't tolerate. The further the roots must reach down into the earth to secure its footing and reach water, the stronger the plant becomes. Vines that have minimal irrigation, such as those at Carmel Road, actually produce more concentrated flavors. In essence, the best grapes have to struggle.

How does this differ from your own experience of working towards your goals?


Credit: Photo by Filippo Andolfatto on Unsplash

Being human means facing challenges, and it means failing. Being successful means getting back up and trying again. The more times we get back up, the more we learn and the stronger we become. We also gain perspective and appreciation for each step of the process.

The idea of embracing failure has become more popular with executives and leadership theory in recent years. Design-thinking theorists preach the power of failure for innovation to provide useful information for the next iteration of design. Today’s innovative workplaces embrace a “fail fast” culture to lean into the creative edge and to empower their employees to not be afraid of trying something new. This keeps businesses at the frontline of creativity and can lead to new inventions never imagined. Many of the best innovations in history were made by mistake including Penicillin, Post-It Notes, and Pacemakers[1].

Post It notes

Post-It notes were discovered by mistake in 1974 Photo Credit: Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

If we can agree, “Whatever doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger”, why then do we still maintain a knee-jerk reaction of resistance when faced with a result we don’t like or a challenge we are going to have to go up against?

And if the road to success is paved with failure, why is it taboo to admit failure in our work or personal lives?

Real life courage

Fear of failure can make us want to hide under the covers Photo credit: Kamboompics

I believe much of this cultural fear of failure results from a discomfort with vulnerability. We don’t want to appear weak or imperfect.

The real irony here is that it actually takes far more courage to stand up and admit failure than to sweep it under the rug. If we can build the courage to personally recognize failure and use it as a tool to learn and grow, we become smarter, stronger and more humble people. And if we can model this behavior in the workplace, we begin to create a culture of agility that allows a business to keep pace with fast changing markets.

What would it look like to change our perspective, use these challenges as fuel to gain strength, and learn from our failures?

One of the best cases of this comes from Apple, whose founder Steve Jobs suffered incredible amounts of failure over his lifetime including being removed from his own company after ten years. But Jobs just kept toiling, ideating, and creating and ten years later he came back to lead the company which last year became the first publically traded company to reach one trillion dollars in valuation[2]. It wasn’t his original idea of the home computer that made him so successful, it was the ipod, a new idea he had imagined based off his successes and failures over his lifetime.

Try switching up your perspective on failure, using the intel for your next attempt. Here’s some tips to celebrating failure on your road to success:

  1. Don’t beat yourself up. Everyone fails. You’ll likely fail again, too. Be kind to yourself when things don’t go as planned. Real winners know this is a part of the journey, and serves a purpose.
  2. Pause to Reflect. Take time to analyze what happened, exactly where things went wrong, and what can be learned from it. “The only real mistake is one from which we learn nothing.” – John Powell
  3. Maintain a Positive Attitude. It can be hard to do this when we are disappointed, especially when we have put a lot of effort and hope into something that doesn’t pan out. Give yourself time to feel those feelings of loss, but don’t get stuck in them. Set a date that you’ll mentally move on with a fresh attitude for what the future holds.
  4. Make reparations. If your failure involved another person or stalls other projects, make sure to acknowledge the error and do your best to smooth things over. If you come at the situation authentically, and allow yourself to be vulnerable, most people will meet your humanness with humanness. It may even make them feel better about their mistakes and build trust in your relationship.
  5. Start over, or pivot. Don’t give up. Or do, but do it consciously. Sometimes persistence and timing is the most important factor in getting it right, and other times require recognizing when an idea is no longer worth pursuing. Take the time and reflection (step #2) to know which is which, and be confident in your decision.
  6. Celebrate Your Resilience. If you’ve failed and got back up again, that’s a win. We really begin to appreciate success once we experience the loss of failure. Take time to mentally recognize how far you’ve come and all you’ve learned. Don’t compare yourself with others, compare yourself with where you started. 

Just like the old vines that endure environmental challenges to produce superior grapes, so too does it take personal resiliency to transform failure into success.

Old vines

Photo Credit: Nacho Domínguez Argenta on Unsplash