Why you should never be afraid to fail

Nothing makes Gregg Patterson, former general manager of The Beach Club, in California, and founder of Tribal Magic!!!, happier than failure. Confused? Read on…

I’m a cheerleader for failure. A big fan. A lover of the big flop. An advocate for failing early, and often. I’m an unabashed, unreformed, unrepentant Failure Enthusiast.

You interviewed for the job and didn’t get it. Three cheers!

GettyImages-658516626You met with the board. They thanked you for your efforts.  They told you they’d changed directions. They handed you your walking papers. They gave you the wave goodbye. And sent you packing. Three cheers!

You shot 147 for nine, lost $75 to the competition and hit nineteen logoed golf balls into the pond. Three cheers!
You authorised the installation of new accounting software that couldn’t account. Three cheers!

You organised and delivered for the first-time-in-the-history-of-the-club a wild and crazy New Year’s Eve party – that bombed. You budgeted for 250, staffed for 250 and ended up with 37 teenagers and seven comfort dogs. Three cheers! And you, a lover of winning, say – huh?

Learning to cheer

People hate failure for all sorts of painful reasons. The very thought of getting spanked, of falling down, of being publicly defeated gives most people The Big Twitch. I, too, hated failure until, midway through my career, I spoke to my Big Brother who’s a tenured professor, a research engineer, a big-time success story in the academic world.

I was moaning and groaning about failure, how winning is everything and failing’s for losers.
He gave me the look and laughed.
“We research types never talk about failure,” he said. “Every test is a data point – neither a success nor a failure but an insight to be used in pursuing one thing and avoiding another. “Think data points, dude. Ban ‘failure’ from your vocabulary. Plan, experiment, record, analyse, re-do and laugh at the gods. Then have a beer, chill out and carry on. Just like us research types.”

So I embraced my ‘data points’ and banned failure from my vocabulary. I came to accept that the foundation of success is a catalogue of failures, that the journey to doing good is paved with big flops and little flops and that every flop is a research and development opportunity.

Lessons learned

After eating slice after slice of humble pie, I arrived at a few ‘see failure the right way’ lessons that should comfort all you up-and-coming (and long in the tooth) professionals who fear failure like the plague.

Success can be a fattening dish. Success tastes good, makes you glow, then thickens the waistline. Too much winning leads to self-congratulation, which leads to smugness, which leads to complacency, which leads to getting stomped by the competition.

An occasional slice of humble pie does wonders for the analytical and creative juices.

Admit you failed

Acknowledging failure is the first step in failing upwards.
Failure Enthusiasts accept that they flopped, learned from their stumbles and moved on.

Call failures flops

Flops are funny. Laughter lessens the sting, balms the wounds, purges the demons and halts the big sink into the quagmire of existential despair. And when you laugh at your flops the world laughs with you – and not at you!

The road to success is paved with big flops and little flops – for everyone.

Failure is the foundation of wisdom and character.

The upwardly mobile, glory bound young professional needs to try lots, fail often, fail fast, reflect deeply, adjust quickly, re-arrange the tools, recoup, dust off and begin anew. And laugh at the gods! Failure is the foundation of wisdom and character. The events that most often ‘form’ us are the ordeals we experience, and most ordeals involve – at least in some measure – failure.

Wisdom is insight gained from experience. Character is how one responds to experience. Both flourish amid failure.

Build a ‘network of caring and sharing’

We all need shoulders to lean on, mentors to advise us, counsellors to guide us. When we fail we turn to those others and in doing so create bonds that strengthen us in the face of adversity.  A ‘network of caring’, a ‘failure reference group’, is formed one failure at a time.

Team failures are growth engines for the team. People who struggle together and fail and then share the what, the how and the why of their collective failure grow together. Share your personal flops with the team. Analyse the failure journey – together.

This is what I did and why. This is what happened. This is what I learned. Learn from my flop and grow.

Anticipate the big flop

Failure Enthusiasts prime themselves for the type of failures they’ll eventually encounter. The failed project. The failed interview. The failed job. Anticipation makes failing easier to digest and opens the mind to the lessons learned.

The ‘failure spank’ releases the creative juices. We examine deeply when we fail. Failure is the creative spark imaginative people need to start thinking differently.

The ‘failure spank’ accelerates change.

Failure Enthusiasts know that failure often teaches us that it might be time to change directions, to re-invent ourselves and to seek out new and possibly more fruitful challenges. Elsewhere.

Accountants see risk where Failure Enthusiasts see possibilities. Don’t let the ‘numbers guys’ keep you from trying – and failing.

No risk, no return. No guts, no glory.

As I look back on my forty plus years in clubdom, I’m forced to admit that 99.73 per cent of all the ideas I’ve ever had have ended in failure. Three cheers! I failed often, failed fast and failed upward – gloriously.
I’m a Failure Enthusiast and proud of it!

Easing the Pain

Failures will happen. Knowing how to ease the pain, purge the demons and grow towards the future are critical must dos for every upwardly mobile business professional.

Here are a few of the tactics I’ve used to ease the pain and balm the wounds during my failure journey: Ponder failure before every failure opportunity. Figure out where things can go wrong.

The known unknowns and the unknown unknowns. Tell yourself ‘stuff will happen and people will be weird’ and there is nothing you can do to plan for it in advance.

Knowing that a big downside can happen eases the pain of ‘downside happening’.

Create a failure diary
Every failure deserves a page in The Book of Success.  Writing purges the demons, institutionalises the memories and gives you control (or at least the illusion of control) over the experience.

Spank failure with exercise.
Sweat diverts the mind, releases the endorphins and gives you the glow. And puts every failure in perspective.

Debrief with the team after every failure experience.
Digest the failure with good conversation. Share your failure with your peers. They too have failed and will give insight and comfort when insight and comfort are needed.

Share your failure with your loved ones.
They care about you and will buck you up when you feel down.

Share your failure with your mentor.
Get a mentor who’s experienced, likes to talk and knows whereof you speak. Connect and reflect after every failure spank.

Failure stings. Know how to ease the pain and rejuvenate the spirit.

Give failure its due 

You’re going to fail and failure’s a cruel teacher. But successful people know you’ll be judged as much by your catalogue of failure as your catalogue of success, that failing upward is the key to wisdom and long-term success. Laugh at the gods when you fail. Spit in the eye of the demons of negativity. Do. Analyse. Grow. Keep moving on and… Enjoy the journey!

Who is Gregg Patterson?

Gregg Patterson spent 34 years as general manager of The Beach Club, the iconic private member owned club in Santa Monica, California, before setting up Tribal Magic!!! in 2016. He is now a featured speaker and presenter at club management seminars, and other global forums, and lectures on ethics, staff development, club sense and communications, among various other subjects.

By Marie J. Taylor

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