Why "Failures" Are Your Hidden Super Powers

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Spread Your Sunshine Founder Melanie S. Griffin, Esq. recently addressed the Florida Association for Women Lawyers (FAWL) Thomas M. Cooley – Tampa Bay Chapter regarding Why “Failures” Are Your Hidden Superpowers. This presentation focused on why you should not be afraid of "failing," and instead, embrace that sometimes things will not turn out as planned, remember that no one has a 100% failure rate (including *you*!), change your definition of “failure,” learn from and do not dwell on challenging experiences, and have a game plan for them. While this program was presented to FAWL, almost the entire discussion applies to graduate students and professionals across all industries. It is therefore hoped that these ideas help fabulous YOU as you do the hard work on these issues and make the changes necessary to shine your brightest.

Understanding the Fear of “Failure”

Fear of “Failure” Defined

The American Psychological Association defines the fear of failure as a “persistent and irrational anxiety about failing to measure up to the standards and goals set by oneself or others.” This anxiety may revolve around academics, job loss, loss of self-esteem, and a myriad of other triggers. Additionally, perfectionism and certain psychological disorders can exacerbate the fear. 

Fearing “Failure” is Gender-Neutral

Both genders fear failing, although the fear oftentimes manifests differently in women versus men.

Women tend to hold themselves to higher standards​, meaning that they can be discouraged more quickly​, take a lack of success personally​, and be so afraid of failure that they decide to not even try. They also tend to think of their skills as innate, so if they are not able to do something on the first try, they may become discouraged and think they have failed, even when a concept is completely new to them.

On the other hand, men are more inclined to hide their vulnerabilities. Their stress is only reduced when they feel competent, so they find it more stressful to admit vulnerabilities, as their fear of failure is driven by a deep fear of incompetence or powerlessness​. This oftentimes leaves limited ways to cope with emotional distress, resulting in men ultimately giving up or getting angry.

Intersectionality Between Fearing “Failure” & Impostor Syndrome

Impostor Syndrome is the belief that you are a fraud or not enough, that you are not deserving of your achievements, or when you attribute your successes to luck or fate instead of skill or competence. It is age- and gender-neutral, manifesting in over 70% of Americans at some point during their careers. This can be connected to the fear of failure, as many people suffering from Impostor Syndrome have trouble finishing, or even starting, projects because they are afraid that they will fail.

It is important, however, to keep in mind that most professionals experience this feeling, and thus, you should not allow it to prevent you from exploring various career opportunities, particularly those that are expected to experience high growth over the years to come. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that from 2019 – 2029, the employment of phlebotomists will grow by 17%, much faster than the average for alternative occupations. If healthcare is of interest to you, serious consideration should therefore be given to training programs like those at PhlebotomyU that offers full, abbreviated, and blood withdrawal classes to ensure you are competitive in the medical field.

Mourning & Moving Beyond “Plot Twists”

As explained herein and in many additional Spread Your Sunshine materials, it is truly believed that experiences that do not go as originally planned are your hidden superpowers. This said, it is unlikely that these superpowers are immediately appreciated. More likely, your instant reaction is hurt, frustration, anxiety, sadness, rage, jealousy, you name it. All. The. Feelings. That is perfectly normal. And, awesome. Not awesome that your original plan did not work out, but awesome that you are real about your feelings and allow yourself to process the situation. Even a company with the name Spread Your Sunshine does not think life always shines brightly. Sometimes the sun is hidden behind the clouds before it reemerges. It is okay to not be okay. Giving yourself time to heal is part of the process, and the greater the “loss,” the longer this process will take.

The forgoing said, a new ending to the story is a turn of events, not a life sentence. Too many times, we dwell on the past and stay stuck there. Permanently reflecting backwards will not help you. The thing happened, it’s gone, done. No matter how much you wish it was different, re-writing a past ending is not an option. What you can control is how you move *forward*.

When thinking about moving forward, I often reflect on one of my favorite quotes by Michael Jordan,

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

You are not alone in your “failure.” You are in extremely good company, including, as shown by Michael, the richest and most famous athletes in the world. And, different than those athletes who “failed” in front of millions of viewers and endured boo’ing and social media trolls, you may be the only one who knows that something went differently than planned. What will determine whether you succeed like Michael or stay firmly routed in the past is how you respond to the situation.

To take the super star approach, determine when you will begin to transition away from your initial hurt, whether that be in a day, week, month, or some other time commensurate with the significance of the event. By that time, begin analyzing what you could have done differently to change the past outcome. There are at least two answers.

First, you may determine that there is nothing you could have done differently, you gave it your all. If so, congratulations! You sunk your heart into something that really mattered to you and left it all on the field. That is a *huge* accomplishment itself, take pride in it. It may also mean that for whatever reason, your goal is unattainable. Your next job is to determine, “why?” What is it you are meant to do instead? What is your next journey? How are you alternatively meant to impact the world with your unique talents and fabulousness? There are great answers to these questions, you need to focus on finding them.

Alternatively, you may realize there are several things you could have done differently that would have led to a better result. In this case, congratulations! Your original goal is still in play. Your next job is to determine if you still want to pursue this dream. If so, learn from your previous “mistakes” and begin implementing the identified changes to ensure a better outcome. If not, that is okay, too, a new endeavor may best fit your next life season. If so, see the questions in the forgoing paragraph to determine how you will next shine your brightest.

Why “Failures” Are Your Hidden Superpowers

As hinted in the section above, after processing what was initially a negative experience, you can benefit from several silver linings. This is where the magic lies, these are your hidden superpowers. The following are a few of our favorites.

Increased Growth & Learning: Acknowledging your fear gives you the opportunity to ask for feedback, help, and/or criticism. Implementing what you learn will accelerate your personal and professional growth, making you an even bigger and badder version of your previous self.

New Opportunities, Jobs, Relationships & Experiences: Sticking with what you know so that you never fail stagnates your career, relationships, and more. The willingness to accept new challenges, even when uncomfortable, provides you with opportunities not previously envisioned.

Maximized High Performance: Continued high performance requires new challenges. Although it may be counterintuitive, at some point, continuing to do what has become routine will cause you to backslide. Preventing this regression requires accepting new projects and committing to lifelong learning.

Heightened Productivity: “Move fast and break things.” That was Mark Zuckerberg’s initial motto when founding Facebook. “Failure” was the only way to determine if something worked before being outpaced by the competition. Likewise, your productivity will be severely hindered if you constantly worry about making the “wrong decision.” Instead, accept that “failure” may be an option, and if so, it is not the worst potential outcome. Holding yourself back and never reaching your full potential would be much worse.

Better Time Management: When you fear “failure,” tasks, regardless of their importance, can take an inordinate amount of time. Abandoning your need to make everything perfect will liberate you and allow you to better manage your time.

Improved Drive, Motivation & Work Ethic: Your dream not working out as planned the first time often gives you more determination and focus to achieve it next time.

Boosted Self-Confidence: Learning that “failures” have several benefits and you are not alone in such experiences improves your mood and the perspective you bring to new projects and challenges.

Enhanced Joy and Happiness: The more you think about something, the more intensely you feel the associated emotion. For example, pretend someone upset you by cutting you off while driving to work this morning. The more you think about the scenario throughout the day, the angrier you get. Even when you temporarily forget the situation, say when eating a delicious lunch, you snap back to perturbed anger upon remembering what happened.

Now, rewind and imagine the scenario differently. You were once again cut off while driving to work this morning. This time, however, you wished the other driver had handled the situation differently, but let it go and did not get angry. As a result, your day rocks, as there is no negativity weighing you down.

The same is true with the fear of failure. When you fixate on it, it can be debilitating. Set aside, however, your mind is refreshed and empowered to try new projects and experiences that you otherwise would not have pursued and that you most greatly enjoy.

Built-Up Resilience: Surviving one setback helps you better withstand and more quickly recover from future hardship.

Connected Empathy & Authentic Leadership Skills: When you know what it is like to “fail,” you are more sympathetic to others who endure similar experiences, heightening your ability to connect, provide helpful support, and best lead your team.

Curated Branding: Oftentimes, our funniest and most relatable stories come from our “failures.” You may therefore best connect with others, whether it be your mentees, employees, or customers, when you have shared disappointing past experiences.

Advanced Goal Achievement & Success: As the saying goes, “You miss 100% of the shots you do not take.” While you may have some misses along the way, ultimately, abandoning your fear of failure will empower you to pursue new endeavors, eventually leading you to heights not otherwise achieved.

12 Tips for Overcoming Your Fear of Failure

While a certain amount of apprehension will always accompany new challenges, the following strategies will reduce your uncertainty and give you the courage needed to pursue your dreams.  

1. Change Your Definition of “Failure”

“Failure” is not a defeating, embarrassing miss, but a challenging experience from which we learn and grow.

2. Tell Negative Self-Talk to “Take a Hike!”

Just like your mind is uplifted by a positive quote, it believes you when you indulge in negative self-talk. Shut such negative self-talk down by practicing self-love and channeling your ability to overcome the challenges you face.

3. Be a Cheerleader for Your Colleagues

I do not know about you, but little causes me more anxiety than finishing a project, submitting it, and receiving zero feedback. Was the project received? Liked? Disliked? When there is radio silence, it is easy to assume the worst.

Given this, it is important to not just think someone is doing a great job, but to tell them. Your acknowledgment is the difference between experiencing self-doubt and feeling self-worth. Without your feedback, others do not realize how much you appreciate their hard work. With it, they have boosted self-esteem and confidence.

To enhance these feelings, celebrate incremental progress. Doing so allows the recipient of your praise to internalize your statements and believe in their successes. Likewise, focusing on effort and progress, not outcome, will help others celebrate their milestones instead of having an “all or nothing” mentality only focused on the end result.

4. Welcome & Seek Out Constructive Feedback​

Feedback is an opportunity for growth, not a criticism of your performance. It should therefore be elicited often to help you maximize your potential, especially when feedback is available from a trusted mentor before a project is submitted to a broader audience.

When receiving feedback, view it as at least a partial truth even if you disagree with it. Something you did caused at least one person to view your action differently than you intended. Being receptive to feedback alerts you to potential weaknesses, allowing you to address and move on from them more quickly.

5. Extend Grace to Everyone, Including You

Treat everyone in your life as a “customer.” From fur babies, to clients, to colleagues, to family and friends, create a fantastic “experience” for everyone with whom you interact by giving them your full attention and acting as you want to be remembered.

One way to make a good impression is to operate from a place of understanding, not judgment. For example, instead of immediately assuming the worst when someone misses a deadline or no-shows to a meeting, take a deep breath and consider all the possibilities before acting. While it is possible that the responsibility was intentionally shirked, it is most likely that there is a reasonable explanation for, and solution to, the situation. Showing that you care about the circumstances avoids creating unnecessary animosity and curries better favor with the community you want to love and support.

When extending grace, do not forget that it should also be extended to you. Forgiving yourself is hard. So hard, in fact, that you may dwell on personal “failures” for which you would immediately forgive others. Giving yourself grace and moving on from disappointments, however, will allow you to focus on new ideas instead of fixating on the negative. Do not let *you* be the obstacle holding *you* back.

6. Delegate & Ask For Help

The fear of failure is associated with behaviors like perfectionism and workaholism, which are not strengths about which to brag, but rather, a lack of confidence for which you are trying to overcompensate by making everything “just right.” Disrupt this cycle by delegating your to-do’s and admitting when help is needed. Although many of us are hesitant to request favors, the number of times our requests will be denied is overestimated 2-to-1. Instead, the opposite is true - people generally want to assist and asking for help establishes the best connections, as the helper feels invested in your outcome, not annoyed by your need for assistance. So, the next time an extra set of hands would be helpful, ask for them – your request is a blessing, not a burden.

7. Intentionally Curate Your Team

The five people with whom you spend the most time have the biggest influence on your mindset. Do the members of your community encourage you to be your best self? Are they a support network? Do they provide mentorship? If any member of your inner-circle does not fulfill these requirements, they are holding you back and you should make a change.

8. Schedule Your Day for Mental Success

Every day can be successful with the right mindset. To create a framework for positivity, refrain from checking your email and social media accounts first thing in the morning. Instead, begin your day with an activity like journaling what you will accomplish or envisioning how you will react if a situation goes as planned? Worse? Better?

Reserve part of your day to exercise. Whether it is hitting the gym, completing an online class, or walking around your house during periodic breaks, you will benefit from the extra endorphins.

To best focus on and achieve your priority tasks, ignore your inbox for at least 60% of the day. Without your emails constantly in front of you, you can proactively accomplish your goals instead of spending your day reacting to others’ “emergencies.”

As a part of this practice, limit your screen time, including putting your cell phone to bed at night. Both your mind and your eyes are worthy of rest, so give them the time they need to relax and recover.

9. Plan to Succeed, Not Fail

Think about it - if no one has a 100% failure rate, why is it that we only think about failure when planning for the future? We fill our heads with “what if?” scenarios detailing the many ways that we could fail instead of focusing on how we could succeed. Stop dwelling on worst-case scenarios, and instead, think about what you *will* accomplish. Even if the ultimate goal is not reached, you will accomplish more with a growth mindset than you will when worrying.

10. Ferociously Pursue Lifelong Learning

Many empowerment podcasts, books, and the like share a similar theme – fearlessness. It is not that the author thinks they are invincible, it is that they know they could “fail” and pursue the opportunity anyway. Hearing these inspiring stories will give you the courage necessary to do the same. The more you know, the more you will feel ready to face your fears.

11. Ask yourself, “Can I watch someone else fulfill my dream?” 

If not, you know that the opportunity should be pursued and is a priority for you.

12. Journal/Positive Statements & Read Empowering Quotes 

Enhance your positive mindset by writing down the good stuff. Fill a journal and/or post notes around your home or office with things for which you are grateful, quotes that uplift you, and whatever else makes you smile throughout the day.

Final Thoughts

To view and listen to this presentation in its entirety, please click here or on the video below. 

Is there anything you want to hear more about from Spread Your Sunshine?! We’re sure you do, so please share your ideas with us by emailing Melanie at Melanie@SpreadYourSunshine.com or by sending Spread Your Sunshine a message via FacebookInstagramLinkedIn, or Twitter. We love hearing from you, as together we are strongest.

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