How to Fail Forward

Until recently, I literally spent my entire life HATING to fail.  I avoided failing at all cost. I was so afraid of it, I would steer way from doing things that were outside of my comfort zone.  Things that I wasn’t sure I would be good at.  Can you relate? 

I’m know I’m not alone!  I just read some research that indicated that typically women were not willing to apply for an internal job position unless they were confident they could fulfill 100% of the responsibilities, vs men only 60%.  Unfortunately I am not surprised by the stats, because that was me.  I had an unwillingness to undertake what I wasn’t certain I’d be able to do well.

This was until I realized that I could fail forward! (To borrow a term from John Maxwell)

I could choose to remove the “me” from failure and not make it personal.


Failing Forward? To me it means the ability to try something, fail or get a poorer result that anticipated, learn from the mistakes and keep going. Try it again, typically in a different way.

This might seem intuitive, but honestly the notion of doing what I just failed at, again, was like asking to be publicly humiliated in front of my peers.  No thanks.

Learning to Fail Forward.  I remember the exact moment when I figure it out. A TSN turning point.  I was at my cottage, on the couch, reading “Mindset” by Carole Dweck, where she explains that there are two mindsets one Fixed and one Growth.

Coles notes: A Fixed mindset, that I had been owning my entire life, is that you are defined by the outcome, it’s about you. Eg. if I scored really low on an accounting test, I sucked at accounting. If I hosted a work shop and nobody came, I sucked and shouldn’t have done it.  Essentially, you ARE the OUTCOME.

What has rocked my world, and transformed my business and life, is this notion of a Growth mindset.  If my outcome wasn’t as anticipated this mindset allowed my response tobe  more along the lines of, “Ouch, that sucked……so what can I do differently to avoid that next time around?” It’s not a reflection of me! Liberating! So for example in the work shop scenario, I’d figure out what went wrong, trusting that I will do it differently the next time around.  Was it was the topic, the location, the timing or maybe I have to market it differently?  Obviously, to undertake what I had previously ‘failed’ at, it has to be an action that is moving me closer to my goals.

A Growth Mindset is a MUST if your goals are a stretch outside of your comfort zone, otherwise you run the risk of continuing to limit the actions you are willing to take, to avoid failure.

What became so apparent is that OF COURSE I had always chosen to stay in my comfort zone, and away from failure, because I would have been labeled by the failure. 

What’s So clear now is that I get to fail, learn what went wrong, assess what to do differently and carry on.

So now, when big opportunities present themselves that are WAY outside of my comfort zone, I’m willing to try, because even if the outcome isn’t what I had hoped for, I get to choose to fail forward and would never know unless I tried.

My “come from” is that in two years down the road, I’ll be doing whatever it was differently and better, then I am today.  If I never try, I’ll never know and I will certainly be standing in my own way of reaching my goals.

If you are a parent, a manager, an aunt, etc… imagine the impact of role modeling and passing on a growth mindset. I’d LOVE to hear what would change for you…and the people you lead?  Do you see an immediate opportunity to assume a Growth mindset and be willing to take action, trusting that if you fail, you at least did it…and will do it differently next time?  Let us know!

One thought on “How to Fail Forward

  1. Pingback: My Unexpected Lessons from Jay-Z | Get Out Of Your Own Way

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s