Reframing Failure

Its time to re-frame failure. To avoid the word, people have tried to soften it by calling it a setback, major disruption, mistake, error in judgment, etc.  Use whatever word you like, it isn’t the word that is the problem, but how you interpret it, or personalize it. The stories  below are examples of how famous people have turned failure into success.

Thomas Edison: As a young boy, teachers wrote him off as someone who was unable to learn.  He was fired from his first two jobs for not being productive. He found his niche as an inventor, after 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb, 1,001 was a winner!

Bill Gates was a Harvard University dropout and co-owner of a failed business called Traf-O-Data. He was passionate about computer programming and built Microsoft, the world’s largest software company. Microsoft went public in 1986, and by 1987 Gates became the world’s youngest self-made billionaire.

What these individuals have in common is that they didn’t consider themselves as failures. They saw each step as a learning opportunity, that brought them closer to their goal.  They learned from their failures until they succeeded.

Nine out of 10 small businesses  fail. Seasoned entrepreneurs encourage new entrepreneurs to fail often and fast. Why? This mindset helps entrepreneurs learn from failure to improve their service or product. 

Why are we afraid of failure?

We can take failure personally by tying it to our talents and worth because we have been conditioned for success throughout our lives, for example:

  • When we were young, we were encouraged to do well in school and pass each grade. Passing a course or a grade is associated with success in life.
  • In sports, usually only the top three competitors are rewarded for their success.
  • There is competition to get into elite career programs. Getting into an elite program is an indicator of success, status, and the best of the best.
  • We need to compete successfully to get a job.

All of these reinforce success and avoidance of failure.

Studying failure

Columbia University’s Teacher’s College is studying failure through its research centre. The research centre is helping students understand that failure is a normal part of learning that leads to success.  This 2016 study, of 400+ grade 9 and 10 students, found that students thought they needed to have a natural ability to be successful. This thinking is a problem for students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics because they would give up and drop out if they struggled in class or failed a test.

The researchers normalized failure by sharing stories about the struggles inventors and scientists faced before they succeeded. As as result of hearing the stories, science grades improved. Marks dropped for students that only learned about success .  The takeaway from this study is that failure is normal when you are learning or doing something new, and it is important to understand, learn where you failed, and do better the next time.

Reframing failure

Make peace with failure and move on.  You might need to feel bad about it in order to make peace with it, but don’t let it drag on, find a way to get the discouragement out of your head. Vent, journal or do what helps you clear you head and gain perspective.  Consider what happened, what you learned, and what you would do differently next time.

Taking action will help you move on. It will also help keep you from rolling it over and over in your mind.  Re-frame it as a learning and growing opportunity.

It’s a bad idea. Knowing when it is a bad idea is important so that you don’t waste time or money on it. Test out the idea, look at it from different angles, read up on it, check if it has been done before, talk to experts, learn from the mistakes of others. Take small steps to get some small wins, build confidence, and move towards your goal. 

Develop a growth mindset. Carol Dweck, a psychologist and author talks about a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset.

  • The fixed mindset sees talents and abilities as things we’re born with, so when we fail, it becomes a reflection of who we are. 
  • The growth mindset is where we keep learning.  Dweck’s research found that those with a growth mindset achieve more over the long term.

Continuously Improve.Learn from industry, manufacturing, and health. These sectors have taken the lead to promote a culture of safety by learning from their failures to improve products and outcomes. They’ve re-framed failure as quality improvement.

  • The airline industry is a great example of learning from failure. When an airplane crashes, there is a thorough analysis that goes into identifying and learning what caused the crash and preventing future crashes. This analysis requires openness, patience, curiosity, and a tolerance for ambiguity. It has resulted in improved airline safety worldwide.
  • The car manufacturing industry focuses on quality management and continuous improvement, to make their cars safer.
  • Hospitals review deaths and adverse incidents to improve future outcomes by identifying the root cause and system issues involved.

Plan for roadblocks and barriers. Plan and manage your risk(s) when they arise to overcome roadblocks or barriers.

Celebrate wins .This will motivate you to keep going.

Focus on what you can control. Take action to improve the things you can.

Takeaways

Success and failure are a part of a continuum. The same qualities that causes someone to be successful can cause them to fail.

Industry is leading the way to learn from failure. They are re-framing failures as opportunities to improve safety and outcomes.

We can learn from industry to normalize failure, to use it to improve what we are doing, and see it as a step closer to success.  

What about you? What will most help you get back on track after a failure or setback?

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Do Leaders Feel Like Imposters?

Photo: Kyle Glenn, Unsplash

Did you ever say to yourself that you’re not good enough, that you don’t belong, that you don’t deserve the job, the promotion, the book deal, the seat at the table, etc.?  If you have, you are in good company.

  • Tina Fey:  Actress and author, said the following about imposter syndrome “The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re onto me! I’m a fraud!’” Women tend to explain their successes away by ascribing them to things like “luck,” “hard work” or “help from others” rather than the innate ability or intelligence than men often cite.
  • Maya Angelou: The prizewinning author once said, after publishing her 11th book, that every time she wrote another book she’d think to herself: “Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody.” 
  • Michelle Obama: The former first lady has spoken and written about how, as a young woman, she used to lie awake at night asking herself: Am I too loud? Too much? Dreaming too big? “Eventually, I just got tired of always worrying what everyone else thought of me,” she said. “So, I decided not to listen.

My friend Google, showed me that many famous people suffer from imposter syndrome, including, Tom Hanks, Natalie Portman, Arianna Huffington, Serena Williams, Sheryl Sandberg and Mike Cannon-Brookes, an Australian billionaire and CEO of Atlassian who told his story in this TED talk.

Leaders in every walk of life have experienced the imposter syndrome. How they deal with it is an important lesson in leadership and managing your mindset.

Who is Prone to Imposter Syndrome?

This syndrome was first applied to women by two psychologists in a 1978 study.. Since then, it was found to apply to anyone from any walk of life. Anywhere from 9% to 82% of people can experience imposter syndrome

Minority groups may be especially susceptible to it. A 2013 University of Texas study  of ethnic minority college students found that Asian-Americans were more likely than African-Americans or Latino-Americans to experience impostor feelings.

What Does Imposter Syndrome Look Like?

A person with impostor syndrome does not internalize the positive feedback they get. They don’t see it as an accurate reflection of their abilities. Those who don’t feel like imposters, receive positive feedback, feel good about themselves and confident in their abilities.  

Imposter syndrome is:

  • Feeling like a fraud and fearing being discovered,
  • Having difficulty in absorbing personal successes,
  • Feeling like success isn’t deserved, they don’t belong, or are out-of-place.

Feeling like an imposter can lead to a drop in job performance and job satisfaction, as well as increased anxiety and depression.

Valerie Young, expert and author of, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, found the following patterns: in those with imposter syndrome:

  • Perfectionists are prone to imposter feelings because of the high expectations they set for themselves. Small mistakes will make them question their own competence.
  • Experts feel inadequate if they are not fully prepared or knowledgeable before they start a project. They won’t ask questions or speak up in meetings if they don’t know the answer.
  • The natural genius feels like an imposter when they have to put effort into their work.
  • Soloists work on their own and if they need to ask for help, they think that means they are a failure or a fraud.
  • Superstars feel the need to succeed in all aspects of life and may feel stressed or like imposters when they are not accomplishing something.

Managing Impostor Syndrome

Re frame your thoughts

  • Recognize the imposter thoughts and put them in perspective. Ask yourself: Does this thought help or hinder me? Then, take action; either let it go, or take positive action.
  • The way to change your self-talk is to guide your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.  Replace negative thoughts with positive ones or phrases that break the cycle like, “You got this!”,”Go get ’em”, or ” I can do hard things!”, You are good enough!”
  • Recenter and calm yourself, go for a walk, meditate, do some deep breathing or something that is relaxing. Over time, when you refute the negative chatter in your brain with more accurate and positive thoughts, your brain will become rewired to believe better.

Discuss your feelings

  • Discuss how you feel with a trusted friend, mentor or seek professional help. People who have more experience can reassure you that what you’re feeling is normal and knowing others have experienced it can help make it feel less scary.
  • Most people experience moments of doubt, which is normal. The important part is not to let the doubt control your actions.  Use the information you have to remove imposter doubts more quickly.  Young says. “They can still have an impostor moment, but not an impostor life.”

Write it down!

Your successes

  • A study of over 12,000 journal entries from 238 employees found that capturing small wins helped increase motivation and build self-confidence. Write down your successes, so that you can visit them when you need to. Take time to absorb your successes.

What you are grateful for?

Successful people practice gratitude by writing down the things they are grateful for. Gratitude:

  • releases positive emotions,
  • helps to adopt the wins,
  • improves health,
  • helps to deal with adversity, and
  • builds strong relationships.

Your self-doubts

Writing is a great remedy for impostor syndrome and has a healing effect. Write down your feelings of self-doubt. In fact, participants in a study who wrote about their most traumatic experiences for 15 minutes, four days in a row, experienced better health outcomes for up to four months later.

Writing can help you find meaning in your experiences, provide a different perspective, see the positive side of an experience, and provide lessons for future use.

Takeaways

Imposter syndrome is a mind game. It is a matter of who has control of your mind, is it you, or is it your thoughts?

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