Ask Yourself About…Failure

I’m seeing reports of the Carolina Panthers quarterback not talking much, or very well, about his team’s Superbowl 50 defeat. I don’t follow football closely enough to notice a pattern in this player’s reactions to losing. He’s in his mid-20s. Maybe he doesn’t have that much experience losing. Maybe the team felt invincible after a strong season.

Anything a person doesn’t do often is likely to be something he (or she) won’t do well. Put another way, if you don’t do it much, don’t expect much when you have to do it.

I thought this was a good time to blog about failure.

Honestly, it’s funny that with athletes, and any high-profile people, the fans expect the famous person (FP) to talk with ease about any and all recent failings: losing a game, losing an award, a string of career fails (lost games, movie flops, cancelled shows), a tough divorce, financial woes, fashion choices, a cancer battle, losing a loved one, a child’s disability or struggles, weight, or aging. it’s all up for grabs. The FP is supposed to be cool, almost nonchalant, as if this is all happening to someone else.

In sports, within hours after failing, the FP supposed to talk easily about that failure. How many ordinary people could assemble perspective and be cool-headed THAT quickly? Reflecting humbly on what he/she could have done better? What the team could have done better? And put all that into “just the right words”? Could you or I do that?

Yes some do it well, especially more seasoned people who have “been there and done that” hundreds of times, but most people?

Most people don’t talk about failure. It’s not a hot topic or a desirable one. I doubt the word failure has ever gone viral, as in, “tonight, everybody share your last screwup on Twitter.” Our culture has PostSecret, an anonymous confessional booth via postcard that’s immensely popular. A lot of these secrets deal with failure issues: failing ourselves, failing others, or both. It seems like, unless you’re an FP, you can’t easily reveal your failures in a public way. You have to “have arrived” first, or achieved something big. Even then, it isn’t without controversy or judgement.

It’s a shame there is so much shame and stigma surrounding failure and talking about it. Failures are as natural as breathing, eating, and peeing. Failures are a part of life. They are part of being human.

Failure and how we handle it is really important life skill. Failure is worthy of focus. Avoiding failure or being afraid of it doesn’t make it go away.

It’s become common in job interviews to talk about failures.

Being blindsided in a job interview by unanticipated, potentially embarrassing questions can have a person sweating bullets. Especially if you, the candidate, never asked yourself these things.

So the next time you have an hour or two, at home, in comfy clothes to think about it, ask yourself:

  • What have been your biggest failures? [This isn’t something to figure out the night before the interview.]
  • Can you talk about your biggest failures, or are they still sore subjects?
    • Can you only talk about them with trusted friends?
    • Could you talk easily with a stranger, someone who’s making an impression of you, as you talk?
    • What if that stranger represents a job at the company of your dreams? [Ideally, we’d be comfortable talking about anything when this much is on the line. Brands and FPs are taking this level risk just about every time they share a message, but I digress.]
  • How long ago did the failure (or failures) happen?
  • What have you learned from that event/those events?
  • Do you still get teary eyed or feel your blood pressure rise when you think about these things?
  • Knowing yourself as long as you have, why is the reaction still so intense?
  • Was it the words used by someone else?
  • Was it being embarrassed? fear of looking dumb? being proud? Feeling duped/played? Getting blindsided?
  • How can you get past these raw feelings in a constructive way? Writing it out? Painting it? Playing an instrument? Writing a narrative about it? Talking to someone not involved, like a counselor?
  • What can you do to get to the point where you can talk about hard things without getting teary eyed, or getting enraged?
  • Do you take failure seriously, like a mark of Cain, as if you’re cursed to never succeed?
  • Do you think you’re capable or worthy of great things? or are repeated failures a self-fulfilling prophecy? Do you need a more positive, keep trying attitude?
  • Even if part of what you learned was some people are jerks and can’t be trusted, that puts all the control in others’ hands.
    • You can’t bash others in an interview, you bruise yourself and your image when you do that. [People may suspect you dealt with a jerk. People may know for a fact the other party is a jerk. But when you are asked about it, if you focus all the blame on them, if you call them names, it makes you look bad.]
    • What are you going to do differently next time?
    • What have you learned from this that changes your approach? How are you wiser?
    • Not being able to talk about our failures and looking cross can look immature. If you don’t have the words, admit you struggle with the words, and do the best you can.

TL; DR: Get comfortable talking about your own failures. Ask yourself hard questions so you’re not blindsided in a job interview or other intense, but important conversation. See the bullets above for prompts.

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