Fail fabulously. I first heard this term when I was attending coach training, and I disliked it from the moment I heard it. What was fabulous about failing? Failing was failing, and you couldn’t convince me that it was a fabulous experience. I had never experienced it in that way.
Admit it: We all make mistakes. It is a big part of being human. But failing for me used to be fatal, or so I thought. That’s why I spent a lot of my life avoiding making mistakes by playing it safe.
We live in a world where we are taught that whatever we do, we must do it right. Measure twice, cut once. Do it right the first time, or don’t do it at all. Rule No. 1 is to never be No. 2, and that means never fail.
Many of us are taught from a very early age to be perfectionists. Mistakes are to be avoided at all costs. We even cover up our mistakes and hope no one sees them, as they would reflect badly on us. I operated with these principles for a long time. Then came the day I began to believe that failures taught me my biggest lessons.
I was in my late 20s and working very hard to grow my career in business. I said yes to a job I had no idea how to do. While in this position, a vendor asked me for some information that I wasn’t 100% confident I should release, but I thought they had good intentions and provided them with the data. The next day, on my desk, was the largest bouquet of flowers I had ever received. It was from the vendor. Something did not feel right about this, and when I talked to my boss about what had happened, he was angry. I had provided the vendor with some information that was company confidential. I failed fabulously and felt ashamed for a very long time, but I also learned a very big lesson to listen to my instincts and seek advice when something doesn’t feel quite right.
I am really glad we change. I have spent many years failing and being able to get up again and be better for it. This experience causes me to think the problem is not in making mistakes but in the stories we tell ourselves and those little (or blasting) name-calling voices in our heads that start telling us how stupid we are for making the mistake or how incompetent we just proved ourselves to be. “There you go again. You can’t do anything right, can you?”
Well, over the years, I have learned to fail fabulously. This is a new rule, and perhaps even a value, I now hold. It’s like learning to drive a car. At first, we are unconsciously incompetent because we don’t even think of driving a car. It’s not on our radar. Then we become teenagers and learn how to drive. Conscious incompetence is at the wheel. We are learning and are consciously incompetent, as we need to learn to the level of competence. As we get more comfortable and practice driving, we become consciously competent as we still need to focus on the mechanics of driving. One day it becomes second nature to us, and we are now unconsciously competent. We don’t even think about the “how” of driving. We just do it.
To learn to drive a car, we had to fail fabulously — hopefully with no serious accidents.
I now feel that if I’m not failing fabulously, I’m not really living this game called life. I’m not growing, I’m not learning and I’m not challenged or motivated.
I even made a failure resume. I took a look back on my biggest personal, professional and academic failures. It helped me see how failure got me on a different road to success. Yes, it was a road I had not originally chosen but one that was better for me to take.
I can happily say I have failed fabulously in my life. I am getting really good at failing and learning from it. I have something to celebrate.
Besides, I always tell myself that whatever the failure, it will make for a great story at some time.
As Elbert Hubbard said, “The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.”
This blog post was originally published on Forbes.com on November 8, 2017.