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As part of our day with the Tallulah Rose Flower School we talk about Failure. We talk about how we need failure to learn, we use quotes from the inspirational and the famous, we discuss what it means to us all, we discuss how we should see this as a necessary positive for change and progression.

I often wondered why we don't have a word which encapsulates the learning, the progression, and the satisfaction of overcoming which follows repeated failures which has a more positive connotation than the word “failure”. It’s something we discuss with the school. Or is there a word? Perhaps in another language? If you know of one drop me a line.

What I did find while researching this is the hashtag #failforward. So I dug a little further. The definition for this is:

Failing forward refers to the acceptance of failure as a steppingstone to future success. To fail forward means that you have chosen to respect each failure for the lessons it teaches you, and to apply those lessons to future efforts, even if those efforts may also fail.

Perhaps this is what we need rather than a simple word.

As a result of the Tallulah Rose discussions, I have started to think more about failure and my own journey. If I’m going to ask people to fail more, and that this is positive, then I need to understand what it means to me. Recent activities have brough this into stark focus.

Historically I do not do failure well. I beat myself up. I’ll find the failure before I’ll see the success, the benefit, and the progression. And I’ve been failing for a long, long time. And beating myself up for just as long. Thankfully I have never shied away from failing. Had I done so I suspect my life would be very different.

I’ve failed academically, I’ve failed with relationships, I’ve failed at work, I’ve failed at sports, at music, in the hills. I have failed financially, spiritually, and physically. Sometimes privately, sometimes publicly and sometimes monumentally. Everything I have ever done I have failed at and everything I continue to do I continue to fail at. Reprimanding myself continues to accompany all.

So even though I know that failure is a requirement of progression how do I learn to accept it gracefully while retaining the edge to continue to fail and to progress? How do I accept “failing forward”? This brings me back to my recent activities:

I climb. I have been climbing on and off for decades but infrequently and with little in the way of progression. When I moved to Cumbria 3 years ago, I decided to put up or shut up, to piss or get off the pot, to treat it seriously or not at all. I discussed this with a climbing guide/coach, Mountain guru and friend. He said he would coach me if I wanted it. So, I took the plunge. I’ve now been training for the past couple of years. Even during our lockdown on fingers and strength at home.

We’ve recently started again outdoors after training indoors throughout the winter months. At my coach’s insistence we are pushing my grade. I have moved to leading Trad grades I’ve never tried before. Leading means using your own placing of gear to ensure the safety of yourself and your partner. This is as much a mental as a physical game. And the stakes can be high.

I have started to fail: my strength has failed, my fingers have failed, my feet and positioning have failed, and I have been falling off. Repeatedly.

Here, however, is where I’m starting to gain a different understanding of failure.

With climbing it is obvious I’m improving. There is a grading system. I can see it. I can feel it. But I’m still falling off. I am failing. Or am I?

A couple of weeks ago I reached a point where I was struggling to make the move. My protection was below me. There was a ledge I would have hit had I fallen. It is likely I would have been hurt. Had the protection been above me I would have made the move. But it wasn’t and I didn’t. I didn’t fall but still it felt like failure. But was it?

In this example not only is the failure clear but so is progress and therefore it is crystal clear that failure is an essential part of the journey and of progression. (NB there is another “life” discussion to be had here around “Risk Management” but that’s for another day)

Can I therefore use these climbing lessons to alter my perspective around other “failures” in life where the progress, at least in the short to medium term, may not be as apparent? Time will tell but I think I can.

By way of illustration, how do I feel and how do I respond to the following:

  • If a marketing campaign gets very little reaction

  • If a tune or an article gets a bad review

  • If a presentation goes sideways

  • If I get lost in the dark, on a hill, in the rain and cold

  • If an argument or disagreement leaves me cold

How can I see these apparent failures as learning and as steps towards success?

  • Marketing campaign: I can determine what I learnt? And how can I tweak the campaign? I can assume there are those who see, read and even like but feel no need to respond in order to continue.

  • Bad review: I can assume there will be those who do not like the article (it’s subjective after all) but also those who do like the article but feel no need to review. I can decide who to listen to and who not to listen to. Remember that every 5-star amazon book review will have a 1-star review

  • Presentation: I can change the style and the content. I can determine what to different next time? And what not to do?

  • Getting lost: I can plan what I would do next time, what I would carry, how I would prepare, when I would turn back?

  • Disagreement: Decide what I could I do? How could I defuse the situation? Would an apology help? Could I own it?

Clearly there are more examples we could use but I think it’s clear that I can use climbing to alter my perception and tweak my own reaction to failure in general. To see it not as a negative but as the only way I can progress. Without failing I will remain exactly where I am. Or worse.

Do you have your own personal “climbing” example you can use to alter your own perception and tweak your own reaction to failure and turn each failure into a necessary positive? Every time?

Let me know your thoughts?

Thanks, Martin

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