Pick up a leadership book today and you’ll invariably come across advice on ‘learning from your failures’. But why, in the age of glorified failure is sharing it still so painful and uncommon? Here’s how you can say ‘check out this scar’ when it’s time to share your story.
Just because you got in a street fight with failure doesn’t mean you lost
Failures aren’t easy. They usually hurt and the really big ones can knock you on your ass; leaving you with scars that you’ll want to hide. But why? Just because you got in a street fight with failure doesn’t mean you lost. Nor does it mean hide your face and hope no one sees the fresh scars. Knowing this first hand, I still find it unsettling.
I was recently at a cafe with a colleague earlier in their career and was asked the question:
“What are some of the failures that you feel have gotten you to where you are in your career today?”
The question stumped me briefly. I knew where I had some major failures, but why hadn’t I shared them with anyone? Was I hiding something? What was I prepared to say? Was I ready to show off the scars or were they still open wounds?
What would you have done? Shared something superficial?
Many of us would have and that’s normal. We have identities to protect, professional reputations to look after and an enduring need to protect our ego.
But wait one second.
Think about how many painful, unnecessary lessons you’ve learned you wish others could choose to avoid with the right insights? This means we have to do the one thing we are inherently averse to: share completely unfiltered truth.
What happens when we share
Back to my story: Well, I shared. I talked about how a single moment had an impact on my life that was inescapable. How one split-second choice had cost me a whole career I spent years building towards (due to physical trauma). I shared how I was then later diagnosed with Joint Hyper-mobility, which would have only made my career that much harder had I gone down the failed path (assuming the split-second injury hadn’t occurred).
Once I shared the tale of how I didn’t live the dream I THOUGHT I wanted, I drove home the fact that failure was incredibly important in hindsight. It was actually for the best and it taught me to be who I am today. I told them that the value in that failure took me years to see and I was so angry about it for years and years, never coming to grips with the scars. It was only once I really found my stride as a leader in my current career that I began to understand how important this failure was in becoming who I am today and saved me from a career of misery.
If failure knocks you out, share the highlight reel when you’re ready
When we move past the pain of failure and crack open the nuggets of wisdom that hide beneath the surface, we can start to impart that wisdom in those around us. I think my colleague found the lesson of picking yourself up and showing off the scars to be valuable, but I gained just as much insight from sharing the experience.
Please, share your failures. Spare someone else the suffering or at least equip them with the knowledge and foresight to embrace their own choice as much as they can.
Anyone who isn’t failing isn’t trying, but let’s cut out any unnecessary pain.
Now, put on your gloves and get in the ring. If failure knocks you out, share the highlight reel when you’re ready. It’s what you do to share those stories that determine the true value of your failures, learning as leaders and the positive fingerprint you leave on the world.
Tell that painful story, you’ll be glad you did.