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Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?

The agony of defeat.  This year’s Winter Olympics have been replete with disappointment and loss.  While a few winning moments occurred, it has been far short of the expectation.

Imagine being the focus of such attention and not being able to live up to that expectation.  It must be quite overwhelming.  You likely would not want to talk to anyone, avoid the news and begin searching for your new home address.  The pressure is great.  And while most of us won’t know what it means to fail this publicly, how well do you know your failure?

The pressure for perfection might be your root cause for failure.  Perhaps living in such a way that you don’t figure grace into the conversation to yourself leads to failing moments.  Listen to the internal dialogue.  Do you give yourself a break ever?  That treadmill of perfection might feel valuable at moments, but in the long run the drain on your system is wasteful.  Understand that perfection is not the same as excellence.  Be excellent in the work you do so as to move the team and/or project to where it should go.  Perfection will often distract others from running that race with you, and that will in turn demotivate you.

Perhaps your struggle is more about perception.  What will people think of me if I fail?  The cliché that failure is a learning opportunity is true, but for many, it doesn’t feel like a real answer.  It is theoretical, not practical.  The abstractness will affect your self-esteem.  You’ll fill in the blanks with self-doubt, inability and insecurity.  People are, by and large, not out to get you.  Known failure is usually met with understanding by the rest of the team.  And for those failures where people don’t understand, sympathy is a likely result.  Either way, the perception issue is self-imposed mostly.  You think you’re the only person to fail?  Right.

Or finally, the possibility of failure is crippling enough.  You won’t risk due to what might happen.  And the failure that happens here is that you don’t.  You don’t try.  You don’t engage.  You don’t offer a point of view.  And all of those things are failure anyway.  You’re not really avoiding anything, just re-labeling it.  Possibility is just that, possible.  It is not a guarantee of success.  It is not a commitment to anything working for sure.  It’s an intelligent risk that is based upon reasonable criteria that has a chance of working.  That is far from definitive.  Lighten up on the failure fear.

One of the best ways to combat failure’s impact and reach is to talk about it.  I know it’s not earth-shattering, but it’s also not done often enough.  Laurie Ruettimann, when blogging about her most recent larger failure wrote, “Did I learn a lot while failing? Sure. People have specific problems and challenges in the workplace, but they’re not always honest about it.”

Think about the ways you handle your failure and the way in which you handle failure for others.  A measure of grace should abound in both.

It’s easy to criticize the Men’s Olympic hockey or figure skating teams, but I also know that if I were in their shoes (or skates), I would be heaping on plenty of criticism to myself.  I don’t need the help.  What I need is understanding, and when I am ready for it, advice.  Armchair coaches are the worst.  Often, it happens because we’ve been the victim of rough criticism, and this is now our chance to payback.  Don’t give into it.  In the times where I have bombed big time, I really just wanted someone to let me vent about it, not to have someone try to tell me what I already knew.

So, as you train for the 2022 Winter Olympics, add some training on dealing with failure.  It just might come in handy.  And don’t forget to stretch first.

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