Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Funny Thing About Failure: the Clock is Ticking

In My 13 Commandments, I listed Commandment #8: It is part of life's learning experience to fail - what is failure anyway? It is so easy for me to give my opinion: failure gives me the opportunity to pass, and with stronger conviction. 

Whenever I talk about failure, I always start with the analogy of giving out trophies at the end of a child's losing season. I go back and forth with this idea, because I am sure if it was my child, I would want him/her to have a trophy. But if they got a trophy every year, what would they strive for the next? Shouldn't they earn the reward ? Shouldn't I instill in them the principle that 'losing' will make them winners? That the winners who got trophies did what they needed to earn the trophy? Shouldn't I teach that them that even when they do their best, sometimes the best reward is knowing that they did their best?  Is it better to highlight that some people are better at doing some things than others, and that all of God's children have different talents and abilities and we should celebrate the talents of others?

Then I think about how many times inventors have to fail before they get a winning product. Their failure to get it the first time probably motivates them to keep going. I found this other great article that highlights failure (specifically as it relates to education - my passion) Gently Hew Stone: A Lack of Failure in Schools. My favorite quote is, "...failure is good for us because it’s a strong teacher, and American kids today don’t get to experience it enough because they’re bubble-wrapped through life."

Some of us were discussing 'failure' and one of my co-workers said, "Yes, I understand your point about not entitling our children with rewards for failing to meet certain qualifications, but what if they are really doing their best? How hard is it to explain this to a 5 year old?" I laughed because amidst my argument I realized something. I pointed at myself and said, "How hard is it to explain that to a stubborn 31 year old?" I thought about the last time I failed at something. 

This past weekend, I was helping set up for a friends wedding. There was a woman who we deemed as the "Project Manager" because she had a vision as to what she wanted this reception to look like. Our goal was to make this pinterest-ready! Our "Project Manager" was the creative genius behind the celebration. Having known her for 2 minutes, I could tell that the best thing for me to do was obey rather than brainstorm because there wasn't any time and the idea-pitching was over - it was time to implement. I decided to mind her and let her tell me what to do. 

I was responsible for tying tulle to the backs of chairs and tiki posts. Tying is not my best skill. Honestly, I struggle with my shoe laces, but I did it. After completing 10, the Project Manager turned to some her daughter was tying and said, "Look at my daughter's. Hers are better. They are tighter." That was all she said.

The first thing that came to my head was "Look lady, I am VOLUNTEERING to be here. I could go home right now if I wanted, and you would have to tie these by yourself. You should be glad I am even here." The second thing I thought was "Really, you couldn't have found a better way to say it? You could have said 'Hey, could you re-tie them tighter to look more like those over there?' Instead what you said was stabbing. You are just being particular and bossy." 

I quickly started untying all of the ones I did, trying to figure out the best way to not get angry or mean. I had to step away from the situation and breathe. I had to realize she wasn't trying to be insulting, but had a preference for what she wanted. Perhaps she was disappointed, but who cares...if she was, then all I had to do was fix the issue, and if she still didn't like it, at least I would know I tried my best. Instead of leaving, like I wanted to, I went over to her daughter and had her explain to me and show me how she was tying so I could improve the tulle I was responsible for. I re-tied all the tulle to match, and went along with other tasks. It still irked me, but I stayed and I continued to work without complaint, and that was a huge improvement in behavior.

I then remembered my 8th commandment about failure. When it comes to failure, I am not graceful. I don't like feeling like I am disappointing anyone, because I am so easily disappointed in myself. Being told I am not doing enough, or I am not good enough or the work I am doing isn't good enough, sends me down this spiral of unhappiness that I combat all the time. This is why I often run faster then I have strength...because I don't want to fail - I don't want to disappoint. I believe the reason behind my approach to "success" and "failure" is innate, and I also know that I can overcome my reaction to it, which is why I have to constantly remind myself that in order to grow I have to fail. 

I also know that my perception of what was said in this particular instance, influenced my behavior. I thought she was attacking ME by attacking my work. Nope, she wasn't. Just like a person who trips and falls is the only one who remembers it 10 minutes later, I too remembered the comment for hours. I don't know why it lingered with me so much, but I had to overcome that too.

It was important that in this and in other situations, I ask myself: did I REALLY fail by not tying the tulle right the first time? Is it really failure if I lose a soccer game and don't get a trophy? Just because I didn't pass my exam the first two times, does it mean I am not capable of being an effective program manager? What is failure really?

In the article Never Give Up by President Monson, he states, "In our journey on earth, we discover that life is made up of challenges—they just differ from one person to another. We are success-oriented, striving to become “wonder women” and “super men.” Any hint of failure can cause panic, even despair. Who among us cannot remember moments of failure?"

He continues, "Our responsibility is to rise from mediocrity to competence, from failure to achievement. Our task is to become our best selves. One of God’s greatest gifts to us is the joy of trying again, for no failure ever need be final."

Failure exists. Failure exists when we don't do our best. Failure exists when we compromise our personal integrity and morals. Failure happens when we don't follow Christ. So, in a way, my thoughts in the circumstance mentioned above were a failure to what I know to be right. Failure is letting the natural man take over our Godly and divine propensities. In this circumstance, I was caught between my natural-triggered emotion and the emotion of how to turn this circumstance into something I could learn from.

I have put off the next steps for the Happiness Project because I am afraid to fail. I am afraid to make commitments I might not be able to keep. This barrier is preventing me from growing. It is time I took a better look at commandment #8. I fail when I don't do my best. Why put off happiness because I am afraid of failure? Failure will make me better. The clock is ticking.  

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