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  • Sara Torpey

You Aren't Failing. You're Learning.

You have a lot going on. It seems like there is never enough time to get it all done. There is always something that doesn’t go to plan, and there is always something that you aren’t sure how to actually do.


Sometimes you feel like you’ve failed. Maybe you feel like you fail now and then, or maybe you feel like you fail a lot. And most of the time that feeling of failure just feels terrible.

We are busy, there is more to do than time to do it, and sometimes we feel like we’re failing, This is something that is true for you, for me, and pretty much everyone you or I know (even those who aren’t willing to admit it!)


There isn’t a way around the fact that we don’t have time for everything, that we don’t know how to do everything, or don’t do everything well.


But, you know what?


Walking around, feeling terrible about failing because you don’t have enough time, don’t know everything, or aren’t perfect IS NOT necessary. And I am working on giving that up. So can you.


“Oh noooooo,” you may be thinking. I can almost hear you. “Where is this going?”


I am not going to tell you that there is some sort of magical way to stop failing. I am a coach, not a magician. And I am an incredibly practical human to boot, without lots of extra time for fluffy ideas.


So, where IS this going?


Well, here it is. (And it may sound a little crazy, but it will be okay.)


When we feel like we have failed, we don’t need to feel terrible. When we feel like we have failed, rather, we should feel excited, and maybe even celebrate a little. Failure is worth celebrating because it isn’t an end at all, it’s a beginning.


Feeling like you’ve failed is the start of the learning process.


As a business person, a parent, a friend, an employee, a whatever-else-you-happen-to-be, learning is important. We are all continually running into things we have to figure out how to do, new problems to solve, or novel situations where we think “Huh. Now what?” And so you try something new, and it doesn't work, and then you feel like you've failed. But you haven't. You've given yourself an opportunity to learn something new.


Wouldn’t it be nice to turn times when you are starting to feel terrible about how something went, and turn them into a way to grow?


I started my career as a teacher, and then moved on to coaching teachers, then sales people and managers, then businesses and business people. With all of my experiences, across different settings, places, and groups of people, somethings have borne out to be true no matter where I am. This is one of those things. I know, for sure, that feeling like you are failing at something isn’t a catastrophe, it’s an opportunity.


Think about your life, your days, your business, your family. Think about a time where you felt awful because you felt like you failed, and then you walked around with it, rattling inside your head, for hours, or days, or weeks (or longer…). It’s miserable. And it’s also not productive, or helpful. It’s not helping you grow.


I’ll share an example of my own with you. I own an online education business focused on math, problem-solving, and critical thinking. We started out, way back when, by selling monthly subscriptions to problem-solving activities for families (and we still do…) but do you know what happened when we first proudly launched our fabulous business (picture me standing tall, proud, and all sorts of excited)? Absolutely nothing. Like, nothing. Crickets. The only one who signed up was my mom (which I totally appreciate, but...). And how did that feel? Terrible.


But it didn’t feel terrible for long. Because I asked myself one really important question. It’s a question that I had learned to ask colleagues, clients, and friends over my years of teaching and coaching (and then actually remembered to ask myself!).


What can I learn from this experience?


And you know what? Once I sat down and looked at what we had done to ‘launch’ I realized that I didn’t really know how to ‘launch.’ Oops. I had made lots of assumptions, some rookie mistakes, and then there were things I just flat didn’t know how to do (yet!). But I knew, right then, that I was going to figure those things out, even if I hadn’t realized some of the things I needed to learn had even existed before.


My feeling of failure wasn’t permanent. That business still exists. The way we first launched didn’t work the way we wanted to, and it was incredibly disappointing. But it also opened up SO many new opportunities to learn. Our initial flop put me on the path to teaching myself all kinds of new and varied business skills, to connecting with marketing experts, to joining a few fabulous entrepreneur groups, to adjusting our model so that we did other things besides subscriptions, and so much more.


From one instance of feeling terrible and like I failed, and then choosing to think of it as a chance to learn, I got SO much good. I didn’t have to sit with feeling terrible, like I failed, because I could hear opportunity knocking.


So, how does this help you?


We all have felt like we’ve failed. And it does feel terrible - but you don’t have to walk around like that for any sort of period of time. Instead, you can decide that feeling failure is a signal, like a little bell. When you hear that bell, it is ringing to tell you about an opportunity, a chance to grow. It’s giving you a space to ask yourself ‘What can I learn from this experience?”


And yes, turning the feeling of failure on its head, and choosing to see it as it’s cousin, opportunity, takes practice. You have to listen for that little bell. But just like anything else, the more you practice, the easier it gets.


Do I sometimes find myself walking around running through the litany of ways I feel like I’m failing in my head? Yep. I do. (As I said earlier, feeling terrible about failure is something I’m still working on giving up!). But then I catch myself, because I've practiced hearing that little bell. And I have learned to love that bell. When I hear it it’s a fabulous feeling, like an amazing discovery, because now all of the sudden I am reminded that I have a chance to learn something new!


You can too. All you have to do to start is listen for the bell that rings to signal opportunity, and see how it feels when you acknowledge it, and figure out what you need to learn. And then maybe do it again, and again. Soon, you’ll find yourself saying goodbye (mostly!) to feeling terrible about failure. You'll start to think of failing as an opportunity to grow. You’ll hear the bell ring, and open the door nice and wide to let the chance to learn something new

walk in!

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