“It has happened again.” I placed my hopes and faith in something big; something that would validate my instincts, talents and purpose. I strategized and meditated. I looked at the problem from every angle. I anticipated setbacks and made allowances for them. I networked. I worked without pay, knowing that I was planting valuable seed into something that would provide a return on my investments of blood, sweat and tears."
And “it” happened again. The dream didn’t come to pass, the company failed, the relationship ended. And in my heart, I asked, “Why does “it” keep happening to me?”
It is failure, or at least what appears to be. I hear your sarcasm coming back at me through the Internet or the mental post office depending on where you are reading this. It appears to be failure because at this moment, you don’t know the role “it” plays in your success.
One definition of anatomy is: “a study of the structure or internal workings of something”, so let’s study the structure AND the internal workings of the “it” we call failure.
When do we first perceive failure? Depending on how you are wired, it could be the first time you are disappointed after putting in a lot of effort. Leaders are people who are used to “getting things done,” and “making it happen.” We do that many times by force of will, incredibly large amounts of hard work, and the ability to influence the thoughts and actions of others. That’s part of what makes a leader, a leader. But what happens when all of the things we know to do and learn to do, don’t result in the success we look for? Disappointment. One component of what we perceive as failure, we can agree is disappointment.
How we leaders internalize disappointment, however, is what supplies the next building block to “failure”. Looking the disappointment head on should provoke us to ask questions, but it is the nature of the questioning that will push the leader towards ultimate success or ultimate failure. The first line of questioning centers around things like evaluating and adjusting: were the right people in the right place, were resources allocated properly, was there sufficient time to implement. Those kinds of questions let us know the leader is making adjustments for future efforts. This is healthy. This line of questioning will lead to ultimate success.
There is another line of questioning, however, that can send the leader into the direction opposite success. These questions, rarely uttered out loud, sound like this: Am I made of the stuff that fails at everything I do? The last thing I tried did the same thing, what’s wrong with me? Both leaders experienced disappointment, but they responded to the disappointment in different ways. While the disappointment may have temporarily knocked down the first leader, the second leader has begun to question his right to success. The first leader is evaluating actions and outcomes to make adjustments; the second leader is evaluating himself in light of outcomes. Both are making adjustments, but one is making a dangerous adjustment in how she views her potential for success. We all have disappointments but allowing them to lead us into discouragement or a lack of courage to keep going is the second major block in real failure.
Will discouragement knock on your heart? Yes, probably after every disappointment. I even believe learning how to handle it is part of the training of real leaders. Our challenge as leaders is to recognize it and not allow it to hang around for days, weeks, months and years. I started to google articles about how to know if you are discouraged, rather than disappointed, but let me make this simple: Do you lack the courage to go further? Then you are probably discouraged.There is more for you, but discouragement robs you of your sight, so you can’t see it.
The next building block in failure is occupying yourself with things that are merely busy work and distraction from what you are supposed to be doing. Why do we do this? Because we don’t want anyone to know we are hurting, we are discouraged and we have been wounded, perhaps mortally, in the place of purpose. The same qualities that make us leaders – people who charge ahead based on a vision – will make us disappear like a wounded animal because leaders are hunters and hunters know what happens to those who are wounded. They become prey to the naysayers and victimized. “Join us over here in the closet of self-pity”, they invite you. “You’re one of us now. See what they did to me? It happened to you too, didn’t it? I tried to tell you. Put those dreams of owning a business or being happy away and join us. You don’t think you’re too good for us NOW do you?” (I just shuddered inside as I picture the pitying glances of those who wondered why I didn’t just STOP). I’m giving you permission to keep going and ignore the people in the victim’s corner. You don’t belong there.
You must keep going, but not just in any old direction. You must stay on plan – even if the plan needs to be adjusted. The busywork, the commotions on social media, the projects that have no significance but are easy for you – STOP. They are distractions, and distractions are designed to woo you away from purpose. Some of those distractions may even be worthwhile, but don’t mix them up with your goals. Adjust, work to build up your financial resources if you need to, but don’t lose sight of where you are headed.
So far, we have three components to failure: Disappointment, Discouragement and Distraction. Here endeth the alliteration.
The next component is the final building block that ensures real failure takes place: Resignation. Resignation says in response to disappointment, discouragement and distraction, “Oh well, it’s over. The thing I hoped, prayed for, and worked so hard for wasn’t going to happen anyway, because there is something wrong WITH ME. I’m not good enough and I realize it now, so I quit.” When resignation takes over there is ultimate failure, because “I quit,” generally means I will no longer try. I will accept life as it has been handed to me and ‘make the best of it.’ On the surface that sounds mature, even brave.
But it is cowardly.
“I quit” is cowardly because it ignores the purpose for which you were created. I quit says the solution I have been sent to earth to accomplish is not important enough to fight for. I quit says “Screw all the people who need my help! I’m going to protect myself in this corner until I die, and then maybe I will finally be happy. I quit says to the God of all creation, “You were WRONG. I am a failure. I disagree with You. I am the one person in all of creation designed to fail. I accept it. I won’t fight for it, or them, or you, because I quit.”
Lest you think I’m being overly hard on you, let me share a story about me. After a significant hit, I sat on the couch for two years. Yes, I sent out resumes. Yes, I had lunch with people. Yes, I networked. Yes, I talked a good game. But I had quit. It seemed at the time, the world agreed I should quit. What woke me up from the nightmare of boredom and depression was a question. A young friend, someone I gladly shared information with, asked me how to start a magazine. His questions woke up a desire to contribute to someone else’s success. We talked for maybe an hour and when I got off the phone I said, “Wow God. That was amazing! I forgot I knew that stuff.” I was invigorated and asked God questions like a person who had slept through years. In my spirit I heard one question: What would you have wanted someone to tell you two years ago? I responded, “That it’s not over. I’m not finished. There is still treasure in me. Let me help you find it.”
I could have lived a safe, mediocre Autumn season in my life, and some people would have probably been relieved. But I wasn’t created to live a safe, mediocre life. I was created to turn on lights for people; to help them find the treasure within them. That treasure may be buried under decades of disappointment, discouragement and distractions, but its there. I stake my life on it. Now get up. Let’s go find your treasure.
Michele Aikens is a Professional Coach. Connect with her by e-mail at Contact@micheleaikens.com. Follow her on Twitter @SepiaPrimeWoman