Failure is an Option

In Life Skills Coaching we sometimes use blue-sky exercises to see the possibilities we have before us. We ask questions like “what would this situation look like in a perfect scenario?” or “what would that look like if you couldn’t fail?”. These are wonderful questions to open our minds to what is possible. When we are in the midst of an experience that’s challenging or where we feel stuck, questions like these can help us become “unstuck”. But what if we took a slightly different approach, and considered failure as an option?

Blue-sky thinking or brainstorming is a great way to exercise divergent thinking, a process where you can gather as many ideas as possible. This technique opens up a world of options because nothing is considered impractical. All ideas have merit and will then be reviewed during the “convergent” phase where you begin to narrow down your choices in order to pick the strategy or idea that best suits you & your situation.

We often already have the answers within us, but need an exercise like this to bring them to the surface. When we perform this with someone else like a coach, I feel that verbalizing our ideas gives them credence. We are exposing them to another person in a way that gives them validity – they are made real and are not hidden away for fear of judgement or ridicule.

In the design thinking process, you use divergent & convergent thinking to grow a list of ideas and then narrow your focus to choose one or two to execute. The ideas you end up choosing may still not work, but at least you have chosen a direction to walk towards and can start to focus your efforts on that particular task. I know how good it can feel to have a plan and not feel “stuck”.

You still have a path ahead of you, however, leading towards your goal. It’s at this point that I’ve started to consider another approach can serve as a complement and a foundation to blue-sky thinking.

What if instead of asking “what would it look like if you couldn’t fail?”, we started asking ourselves “what would it feel like if we were okay with failing?”. Once I started asking myself that question, I started to see that it freed me from some of the doubt and limitations that I would impose on myself. It made me more receptive to the ideas that came out of my blue-sky exercises.

Ideas that arise from a mindset of considering all possibilities can point me towards the horizon. But becoming comfortable with failure makes it easier for me to take the next step. When I ask myself how it would feel if I was okay with failing, a few things come to mind:

  • I begin to remove any unrealistic expectations on the outcome and the need to be perfect.
  • I stop doubting my abilities and become more objective about my capabilities.
  • I adopt a growth-mindset and see experiences as learning opportunities.
  • I begin to remove judgement, from myself & others, about the process.
  • It becomes easier for me to ask for help.

Knowing the direction in which I’m heading is great, but feeling comfortable in making continual progress with each individual step is important to keep my momentum. It was Seth Godin from whom I first learned the idea of being okay with the fact that “this might not work”. It is a very liberating feeling that opens up the world of possibilities and makes it a little easier to take steps forward. Small changes in my perspective can sometimes become the most important foundations.

It was a conversation with a friend that prompted this idea for me to explore. We are all great at providing feedback to our friends & colleagues and yet, we can miss the opportunity to tell ourselves the same messages. This was a really good time for me to revisit this idea and begin to embrace being okay with failing.

I thank you for the time you’ve taken to read this and I hope it resonates with you in some way.

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