I’m sitting on one end of a park bench, my friend at the other end. Like most families, and despite our heavily clad covid-attire – double mask, anti-bacterial gel at the ready- we are attempting to enjoy this rare snatch of Seattle-sun as our children run about the park grounds looking like small surgeons. The air is crisp, but every once in a while, I catch a salty waft off the water that is somewhere to the left, behind the soccer fields, and so I decide to stay another ten minutes.
I’m just settling deep into my revelry, allowing my mind to wander between my friend’s commentary on failing online dating sites and the episodes of New Girl that I’ve started watching again, when SHE appears.
Now when I say, SHE, I mean the SHE that every CEO, and divorcee, and single parent of two knows. SHE, the type of woman and mother that makes you laugh a little too high-pitched and kick your feet at the sawdust ground beneath you.
As I watch her approach, languid in her movements, switching between languages as she speaks first to her child, then us, this song from the Nick at Nite show, The Patty Duke Show, drifts into my head.
They walk alike
They talk alike
At times they even laugh alike
Yep, SHE’s the type of woman I want to be when I grow up but never feel grown enough to be.
My friend and I stand and space ourselves out accordingly, a covid-dance that everyone now knows like the electric slide: it’s the custom. I’ve never noticed before how ill-fitting my coat is, but now it seems the only thing I can notice. I mean, why did I choose to wear this ill-fitting coat today of all days?
We make small-talk for a couple of minutes as our children run after one another. I make a mental note as they pass by us to ask them why they never pointed out my ill-fitting coat before. Just as I am about to vindicate my fleeting sense of adulthood by launching into a story about our company’s growth in recent months, I am surprised when SHE turns to me and asks if my youngest is safe.
I turn to pick her out amongst the tops of white-Seattle-curl patterns, and easily find her caramel flecked, tight-curl pattern straddling two sides of a seesaw. I laugh with a bit of pride at the back of my throat, “She’s fine,” I offer. “But are you sure, she might fall,” SHE insists. To which I again offer, “Yes. She might fall. And if she does, she will learn an important lesson.”
At LTHJ Global we write and speak about the importance of failure almost as much as we speak about succeeding (check out my recent chat about failure on the Money Moxy podcast), but today I want to write about how to ‘teach failure’.
The Legacy Failure Model
In the ‘legacy failure model’, the model most of us were taught in our homes and schools across the US, that in order to personally survive our failures or mistakes we must immediately re-frame our failures into something that’s either:
2) Outside of our control
3) Someone else’s fault
In doing this we protect ourselves from the very real, ever-present danger of associating our failure with any culpability on our part. Examples:
“They made me do it…”
“I’m sorry you feel that way…”
“Well, I didn’t know…”
Although I have ALWAYS found these to be very useful tools for navigating and avoiding any sense of ownership of my own failures, in practice what I have noticed is that this strategy also lets me avoid taking ownership and responsibility for my actions. I get to avoid the very sobering, and very necessary, feeling of accountability for what I’ve done. This, in turn, affords me the very cleverly placed Get Out Of DISCOMFORT Free Card necessary to avoid interrogating why I would harm myself or others, when the evidence is laid before me, or to notice important patterns that might help me grow.
In the Legacy Failure Model, we center our own feelings of comfort. We do everything to protect our comfort and to avoid feelings of sadness or disappointment at our actions. In this model we convince ourselves that to feel failure, or to admit our mistakes, would be to shame ourselves to the point of believing that we ARE a failure, or ARE a mistake.
The Futurist Failure Model
By comparison, what I am calling the ‘Futurist Failure Model’ calls us to hold ourselves accountable when our actions are misaligned with our values, does harm to ourself or others, and allows us to embody important lessons for our growth. The ‘Futurist Failure Model’ allows us to leave ourselves intact – our person or being- while still requiring that we interrogate the circumstances WITHIN OUR CONTROL that led to the failure or mistake.
To me it looks something like this:
F – Feel it
Having the courage to not immediately push away the feelings of discomfort, to be courageous enough to truly experience the egoic sense of loss or grief when we fail at being perfect, is required to incentivize oneself not to repeat the mistake.
A – Acknowledge it
To acknowledge is to hold oneself accountable for a part of the failure or mistake being within your control.This comes well before a placating apology. To acknowledge is to say, “I see the harm that was done (to self or the other), and I commit to not doing it again.”
I – Interrogate it
To interrogate one’s failures is to admit, however humbly, that there is ALWAYS something within our control. The courage to name for yourself, and/or lay at the feet of another, what was within your control is the beginning of creating awareness of how you responded in the past versus how you will respond in the future.
L – Learn from it
Here, when I say learn from it, I mean to acquire knowledge, study and experience to the point of being able to teach it to someone else. To learn is to act. ‘The Futurist Failure Model’ calls us to move past performance to committed, daily action.
Now more than ever, we are realizing the necessity that we as individuals, leaders, and as a society, move toward a new model of teaching failure so that we can contribute to the consistent, daily practice of reaching our highest potential.
For my part, I try every day to be more courageous in my failure, so that I might be more courageous in my personal life and as a leader. I take every opportunity to encourage my children and co-workers to embrace failure as a necessary aspect of growth and maturation. And while I might never present as majestically as the SHE’s languidly crossing park grounds the world over, at least I can cling to the unique pride in watching my daughter fall, pick herself up, dust herself up, and climb right back up again.