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How failure teaches you to be more flexible

"The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm." – Confucius


Researchers and scholars often point to this quote by Confucius as the basis for why it's necessary to be flexible to overcome challenges. The flexible reed bends and flows with the wind of adversity, allowing it to survive the challenge.  The strong, mighty oak isn't flexible, so the wind of adversity breaks it apart.  The new shoots that sprout from the old oak will be flexible enough to withstand the next storm.


We are all human and therefore failure is inevitable. For some it happens early in life and for others not until mid-life. Over the past 6 months I have worked with a number of people who were experiencing their own version of failure e.g., not being able to conceive, a relationship falling apart, and being unable to provide for a family member in the way they wanted to. 


With each of these experiences, my client felt like a failure because they hadn’t measured up to their own standard. Failure teaches you to be more flexible. When you fail, you learn to survive challenges and understand what you can do to overcome obstacles.  Failure challenges you to be flexible enough to learn and grow so you can reach your goals.


1. Failure teaches you the flexibility of compassion

Many people are their own worst critics.  They believe negative things about themselves e.g., their performance, behavior, and potential for achievement that they wouldn't even dream about saying or thinking about others.  By viewing themselves negatively, they rob themselves of the experience of self-compassion which they willingly give to others when they fail. 


Self-compassion holds you accountable and recognizes that you are human and, in this failure, experiencing that which is the human condition. It supports you to want to alleviate your suffering through action and rather than staying in it. 


Your failures teach you to be more flexible about the ‘how’, especially when showing yourself compassion.  When you've failed, taken a step back and reflected on the situation with compassion, you have a better understanding of why a mistake was made. To forgive yourself and move beyond your failures, you need to let go of your self-doubt and recriminations and be flexible enough to show yourself the same compassion and understanding you show others. 


2. Failure teaches you the flexibility of goalsetting

Imagine your goal is to get a relocation to another office with your current company. While that's a worthwhile goal, walking into work and demanding they help you achieve your goal is unlikely to work and is not recommended.  Your manager and peers would likely take a dim view of you and your professional reputation may take a dive, especially if your skills aren’t where they need to be for a relocation. 


Rigidly sticking to your goal by going from business to business and asking for the same thing will not help you succeed.


The failure to get a re-location to the office of your choice just because you ask for one teaches you to be flexible in setting your goals.  You may need to start by networking with people in your desired office, building and strengthening key relationships, and ensuring your skillset is desirable. Your initial failure at having your relocation request supported demonstrates that you may need to adjust your goals so that your goals is achievable, progressive, and flexible enough for you to reach them.


3. Failure teaches you the flexibility of how to solve your problems

Your path to success is different than anyone else's path. While you can and should learn from other's experiences, you need to find solutions that work to solve your problems.  If you're having problems with a co-worker, well-meaning advice from a mentor might be to confront your co-worker directly and discuss the issue. 


Another person might suggest making a complaint to Human Resources, while a third person might advise you to quit your job. Which is the best solution for you?  Your course of action will depend on how comfortable you are with confrontation, how prepared you are to show proof to HR that your coworker is the problematic one, and of course, how much you want to keep your job. 


 If you chose a solution that isn't suited to your personality and situation, you may well make matters worse in your attempt to resolve the issue. Failure then teaches you to be more flexible in how you handle challenges, and what information or advice is helpful and worth considering. 


4. Failure teaches you the flexibility of taking action

"What should I do" is the question people ask themselves when faced with a challenge. Often this is the question people ask me when they first appear for therapy or coaching. And you really have three choices; do nothing; change your relationship to it; or leave the situation. Choosing to avoid the challenge, blame others for your situation, or assume you can't overcome the obstacle will all result in failure. But if you plan for success, take responsibility for your actions, and believe in yourself, you can work through situations and achieve your goals. You may need to approach it differently to what you had initially thought. 


5. Failure teaches you what action to take and how to succeed

Failure also teaches you which actions are productive and which actions won't help you reach your goals.  If you want to do well on a test in school but chose to go away for the weekend with friends instead of studying, the failure to pass the test teaches you how your action affected your outcome.  The next time you have a test, you will know that you need to study before relaxing and keep your schedule flexible enough to allow for the time you need to study.


There is a gift in failure of you choose to look for it and learn from it. Failure is a great teacher. When you fail, you learn why it's essential to be flexible and how flexibility improves your chances for success.


If you have found that you're struggling to get started because of a fear of failure or have experienced a lot of failures and would like to explore and change that outcome for yourself, book in a confidential call and we can discuss some alternatives for you to try.


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