Fail – the first time I learnt that word was as a little girl in primary school, when the teacher warned us that if we didn’t study for our spelling test, we would fail and see red marks on our report cards! Who can relate with that? When I started growing up, failure was when I saw myself in the mirror and realized that I was not slim and gorgeous like Zeenat Aman or Parveen Babi and hence would not get the attention from the young boy I had a crush on as a teenager, then failure was when my marriage fell apart and I had a young daughter to look after and when I could not afford to pay rent or buy nice things for her, failed relationships, failed business attempts, failed entrepreneur initiatives, articles that were declined by editors, coaching clients who didn’t want to continue their journey with me to receiving collection letters from banks for the bills I could not pay to wondering if I had failed as a parent.
Through the seemingly challenging times, there was a purpose that kept me going, despite the fear of more failure, and that was to be independent and to make a difference. I knew that if I never stopped trying then I could not ever really fail in the larger scheme. As I write this, I realize that I started to be able to see a bigger “game of life”, where in Shah Rukh Khan style, “Picture abhi baaki hai”
Being able to laugh at some situations and not take my results or myself too seriously or personally also helped me take more chances, make choices that had consequences, but when weighed against each other, in my heart I knew which choice to make and then accept the emotions that came with a choice. Every choice carried some pain of what I needed to let go of, but I started to see uncertainty in my horizon more as an adventure to be enjoyed than something to be anxious about. When we can let go and move on, we can explore new possibilities.
Inside, I knew that the only thing I could do was to keep on going. I can’t pinpoint the exact time when something in me shifted from fear to gratitude, it was when I deeply knew that I was always at the right place for new opportunities, when doors closed, there were multiple other windows that flew open, and I was able to notice them.
I sensed an inner knowing that when things did not go as I had hoped, it was truly because there was something else much more important and fulfilling that was opening up for me. As I built this muscle of acceptance, forgiveness and gratitude things got better and better like a snowball.
When asked later in life if there was anything I would change, I was able to connect the dots of all my perceived failures and realize that they were ALL the very stepping stones that I had walked on to get where I am today. I realized that I wouldn’t change a thing. The best reframe I recently learnt in my work as a facilitator of transformation with Aberkyn – co-founded by McKinsey & Co was that every upset was in fact a set up for my personal growth. Every challenge I experienced was around my base values being challenged and they were opportunities for me to consciously choose to evolve.
Strength comes from developing muscles that we already have and if we use the metaphor of weight lifting, we know that we can only grow our muscles when we stretch them. The soreness we feel after a workout is little tears in those muscles when they heal, cause that muscle to grow and become stronger. I developed the muscle to ask myself this question in the midst of a challenging situation, “What’s great about this situation” and it wasn’t always easy, but I kept using it and soon almost always I could see the opportunity for learning.
If I talk about my career path, had I not experienced each and every one of the challenges in my life, I would not have been able to feel empathy for the people I worked with and meet them where they were. My daughter now independent and wise in every sense, may not have turned out this way had it not been for her early struggles and watching my journey. I’m not saying that there was no pain, of-course there were many tears of sadness and of disappointment, these are emotions and without being able to fully experience all spectrum of emotion, we really cannot experience elation, joy or fulfillment.
Today at a learning and development conference I heard the line, “fail and fail again and fail early” because no business can grow if they don’t stretch out and above their sure-shot success routes, success if what we experience along the way as we take chances and risk failing. Every business challenge invites leaders to step up and shift the way they “see” the situation, the resources, the needs of their stakeholders and then adapt themselves to service the need.
Without meaning to sprinkle this article with too many quotes that we all get enough of on our Facebook feeds, I firmly believe that if we haven’t failed, then we haven’t tried, we haven’t stretched. The fear of failure can incapacitate us as people, as innovators and as leaders, the fear of losing respect can keep us playing small so that we get to keep the status of success, but in these disruptive times, if we don’t adapt and change, we are doomed and in order to evolve, it requires us to step beyond that self-drawn line of fear that keeps us where we are.
To summarize, the best things you can do with all of your perceived failures, is to look back at your life line and connect the dots that got you here, see all the good that came about as a result of them, the roads that you took, the people that you met along the way and the resourcefulness you found within yourself and from the people around you, that you would not have had a chance at all to discover had you stayed in the safe space.
Each and every set back truly urged you to live your values more fully and stay focused on your purpose, even if you can not entirely articulate what that purpose is, it is the light that beckons each one of us to keep at it, to keep moving on. Once we accept the past regrets with gratitude, we will have strengthened the belief that it is really all good and that we are supported in being able to live that purpose, it is an internal guiding GPS that will always keeps us headed in the direction of fulfillment.
I see strength as the inner cord that holds me up, standing tall, in integrity with my values, physiologically, I stand tall with my chin parallel to the ground in dignity, unwavering to thoughts of doubt, because as you know, it takes as much imagination to have fear as it does to have faith. Both are not real, they can’t be seen, they’re just a perspective which we give energy to, the more we practice having faith, the less fear we will feel. That courage is what leads to insurmountable success. The trick though is that doubt and faith cannot co-exist in the same space, fear is like a dye, one drop and it taints our vision, so choose faith and keep failing with a smile, a dignified regal smile that holds an inner knowing that this is for the best, it always is!
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