I’m going to take you back to the first week of May 2021 and the live interview I did the morning after I retired from the first Wild Atlantic Way World Record attempt. You know that awful first morning when you begin to wake, and with the first remembrance of what has occurred the grey hue of failure descends.
Yes, that morning.
I used the adage ‘failing forward’, which seemed to resonate with all of you, as a way to communicate failure but also determination that this was not going to be a full stop. You’ll recall I used another adage too, ‘sometimes the race wins’.
Simple phrases or adages are useful things in moments of great turmoil; they are concise, memorable and philosophical. They wrap raw moments up in red bows of wisdom and experience.
What happens though when you get home and all the raw emotion of failure, fatigue and disappointment rips off that red bow to expose cracks, gaps and broken dreams?
We’ve all been there because we’ve all failed and if we want to stay on the path of personal or performance progression we may have to visit this place again. So for what’s it worth, here are 5 things I know about navigating the process of ‘failing forward’.
1. Expect it to be gut-wrenching - of course it is, you invested time, effort, hope and vision into achieving something you really wanted. It doesn’t matter if the forum was public or private, you likely pushed yourself and left yourself exposed and it is going to hurt for a while.
But it’s important to stay in the initial gut wrench to begin to unravel the raw experience because the mind will quickly start to sanitize that experience. After all, some part of you wants the gut-wrenching to stop and there is an unconscious tendency to find a less gut-wrenching, alternate story and repeat it until you believe it.
You may move out of the gut-wrenching phase more quickly but you’ve also lost that initial valuable insight. It’s not failing ‘comfortably with your ego intact’ it’s failing ‘forward’.
2. Examine and challenge all insight – when the gut-wrenching phase turns to a more stable disappointment phase it’s time to lay out the initial insight and examine it.
It’s important to examine and challenge it. Challenge what you think you know. Is there another explanation? What information am I missing? What assumptions am I making? Who do I need to talk to?
Valuable information will come through this process but take note; because you are likely still steeped in disappointment it’s critical to remember the difference between blame and responsibility.
Blame is a self-protective mechanism that will keep you stuck. It comes quickly and easily but it traps you in a circular unsubstantiated narrative.
Forward will not come from a circular narrative.
Responsibility comes with weight and substance. You have to hold it, feel it, absorb the weight and emotion of it. When you do that, over time it cracks open with further insight.
This leads to forward.
Assume responsibility only when it’s yours to assume by the way and allow others to do the same. You can't move others forward you can only move yourself.
3. Take your time and only bite off what you can chew – place limits on conversations and thinking time. Be careful whom you talk to as well-intentioned comments can land painfully and normal defenses are not operational.
You can’t force insight but you can recreate emotional and mental upset and this leads straight down the ‘blame and inflame’ rabbit hole.
Put yourself in different environments, have different conversations, not to avoid things but to allow them to breath and as emotion dissipates it leaves space for further insight and perspective.
‘Forward’ is really starting to take over now. It’s being fuelled by all that insight.
4. Integrate insight into a new plan –now that you know what you know, what can you do differently next time?
The race, the route or the goal may be the same but you are different.
You’ll find that a new approach or plan flows easily now. There is a sense of momentum and confidence.
You are actively failing forward.
5. Get back in the saddle and go again – because you have gone through this process, the next time you step up to that start line you are already closer to your goal. It’s still nerve wracking and the risk of failure it still there but so is confidence and the momentum that failing forward brings.
Once you know that failure didn’t break you in fact you looked it in the eye, smiled, brought it home for a long conversation and it turned out to be a valuable friend, you are more equipped to find the performance edge where you can soar.
That's no adage; that is the gift of failing forward.
It takes courage and grit and it isn’t easy but standing in Kinsale in August 2021 at the finish of the Wild Atlantic Way, Part 2, I can tell you, hand on heart, it’s worth it.