We all hate to fail. We take it so personally. It's embarrassing. To some, even shameful. I really dislike it as well, but not like I used to. If you're in business, you have read countless articles on failure I'm sure. Parents, same deal: nobody's perfect. Religions even preach that only God is perfect.
Learning to fail with grace is a skill I want my children and our staff team to know well, but our human reaction is fear, and it runs deeper than many of us understand.
Over Christmas break we decided to enjoy a beloved winter pastime: ice skating. Our two older kids have been skating since they were very young, and while there is a relearning curve each year when the weather gets icy enough, they look forward to it.
Sam told me several years ago the girls really like guys who can skate, so he wanted to be ready so he could ask a girl out on a date: “it's a cozy way to spend time, you know mom” (lady killer alert). Our younger two had yet to be exposed to it though, and they were both a bit fearful. The fears were the same as everyone else's: what if I fall? And my response was immediate: you will fall. You will absolutely fall. If you don't fall you're not really trying hard enough. The youngest, Aubtin, age 5 decided to give it a whirl, while his older brother Pedrom decided observing from the sideline was more his speed.
I was sidelined as well-- nursing an ankle injury. Privileged to spectate while one our wee ones learned something scary and new for the first time, I perched outside the rail and cheered. Trepidation and spaghetti knees waned into stability and cautious smiles within a lap or two for Aubtin. His concentration face was on: squinty eyes and tongue peering just over the edge of his lips, the edges of which turned up after just two laps, tongue retreating back into its rightful place. When we arrived home he counted 15 laps of pure joy, recounting to his brother how much fun skating is, gliding over the ice, wind in your face. “You did 15?!” his brother admired, “Wow, that's a lot! How many times did you fall?”
“Fall? I don't know. A lot I think.”
Puzzled, Pedrom asked again, but the answer was the same.
Aubtin didn't wait for his brother to catch up. Instead, he plowed forth announcing he was loving ice skating, he was going to learn hockey this year and join the team. He just couldn't wait.
When he woke the next morning the first thing from his mouth was “Good morning Kerry. I love to skate.” A reflection of the cloud we all float on when steep challenge leads to earned competence.
At our Habitat affiliate we count failure as success in a measured way. Each Leadership Team meeting holds a report out on our failures for the week. Personal failures, affiliate failures, large and small. It's our structure to create a culture of innovation so we don't become risk averse in the face of failure.
We know people living in poverty are uncomfortable where they are, so why would we sit comfortably doing what we always have done, counting our successes? We will never find the radical bridges out of poverty if we only do what we have always done-- we will miss the rainbow for fear of getting wet in the rain. We're building a culture where we are ok being vulnerable enough with each other to admit we tried something and failed, or got too busy with production and missed what was really important. We are ok being fully human with one another. I hope that's the culture we are building in family life as well-- take measured risks, try new things, we will be here to hug you and brush you off when you fall. Always.
Removing fear from any situation provides a powerful lamplight. Ask yourself: What would you do if you were not afraid? I use it when I am stuck in a decision-- I use it when I am setting goals, and then revisit where I might need to take precautions to get to the end game. When we remove our fear of failure, life is really out there waiting for us.
Not everyone is born with Aubtin's gift of seeing the silver lining in every experience and forgetting that any cloud ever threatened to taint it, but here's the thing: if you really throw yourself into trying, the wins are going to outweigh the losses almost all of the time. You'll fall, but it usually won't hurt that badly, and why would we sideline ourselves from life waiting for an easy path?
What new things will you try this year? What would you do if you were not afraid? Put on your skates and push forward knowing the tumbles are part of the glee that awaits you.