Why Failure is Desirable


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Achieving a balanced life is something like walking a tightrope. You sense perfection one fleeting moment at a time, the high wire, i. e. , life, swinging suddenly and wildly underneath you, this way or that, trying its darndest to throw you off. You inch forward knowing you will never be allowed more than a fraction of a second to rest on your laurels, always unsure what the next moment will bring and how you will handle it.

Success on the high wire means worrying less about getting thrown off and paying more attention to the moving-forward part. But hey, don’t take it from me! Note what happened in this regard years ago to the master himself, the great Karl Wallenda, patriarch of the legendary aerialist family circus act, the Flying Wallendas. Karl’s final performance illustrates the point nicely, albeit sadly and tragically.

In the last weeks of his life, Papa Wallenda became obsessed with the image of falling from the wire, wracked with anxieties he had never encountered before. Throughout his long, illustrious and risky career, recalled his wife years later, Karl had never-ever considered the possibility of not successfully completing his act.

Yet three months before he fell, and apparently every single day leading up to the tragic event, his widow reports that “all Karl thought about was falling. ” So while traversing a 75-foot-high wire in downtown San Juan, Puerto Rico, a height he had mastered long ago, he missed his footing and fell to his death. “It seemed to me, ” Mrs. Wallenda reflected later, “that he had put all his energies into NOT falling rather than walking the tightrope. ”

Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, recounting this story in their book LEADERS, commented, “It became increasingly clear that when Karl Wallenda poured his energies into not falling, rather than walking the tightrope, he was virtually destined to fail. ”

Though failing is indeed an inevitable component of life, something impossible to totally avoid. On the other hand, by worrying incessantly about it, and focusing on it, we can end up fulfilling our worst prophecies. The focus on failure can bring it to life, contributing directly to making it happen.

And besides, failure is often not such a bad thing to experience at all (unless your life depends upon it, as Karl’s did!). Other than failures involving death-defying acts, failure can be an invaluable, impressive teacher. Learning to heed lessons resulting from our mistakes and failures, for example, helps us grow and get better. There is insight and practical value in failure!

So given that failures are inevitable, with many benefits to be derived from them, we should instead view failure as “desirable, ” a phenomenon to be relished and reflected upon.

What kind of benefits am I talking about? How exactly can we failure as desirable? Here are a few initial suggestions to get you started:

  • Failure can teach you lots of ways NOT to do a thing.

  • Failure could suggest a whole new way to go about something, or open your mind to ways of doing something you hadn’t thought of before. (Such inventions as Post-Its, Plexiglas and Velcro come to mind. )

  • Reflecting on some failure in your past might provoke in you and others a good hearty laugh. (What were Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman thinking when they signed on for Ishtar?)

  • Failures can be used as a metric that you are one step closer to outright success. When trying to invent the electric light bulb, Edison tried over 3000 different materials before he came across the one that finally worked (tungsten). When asked many years later how it was he had come to discover the right material when so many before him had tried (but failed), he replied, “I did something those others never did. I didn’t let my failures stop me… I kept going!”

  • It can generate terrific dramatic content for when Hollywood gets around to making that movie based on your life.

    Failure in our society has basically gotten a very bum rap. Begin seeing failure as a friend and not a foe and watch it begin to work wonders on your behalf.

    Ken Lizotte CMC is Chief Imaginative Officer (CIO) of emerson consulting group inc. (Concord, MA), which transforms consultants, law firms, executives and companies into “thoughtleaders. ” This article is an excerpt from his newest book “Beyond Reason: Questioning Assumptions of Everyday Life".

    Visit =>www.thoughtleading.com for more info.

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