We are told that failure is an essential part of growth. It is something that we need to accept. If we are not failing often enough and hard enough, then we aren’t making progress. While it is wonderful to be able to make that argument intellectually, it is another thing entirely to respond to it personally. Our obsession with the negative isn’t about embracing failure; it’s about avoiding it. Perfectionism doesn’t reflect an obsession with excellence so much as an intolerance for mistakes. Our brains actively work to avoid situations where there is the possibility of failure, and discourages taking action that might result in pain. Actually embracing failure is directly contrary to that outcome, which means that we’ve got our work cut out for us.
You can attempt to push through by sheer will alone. In fact, you can do so for a surprisingly long time. While it might work as a strategy in the short term, it is rarely sustainable in the long-term. What you think is in your circle of control is very often at best open to influence, and might be entirely dependent upon luck. Recognizing that is the first challenge. Knowing what to do about it comes next.
Last week I made the argument that we cannot do our best work in periods of stress. The value of having physical and mental space is that it allows us the ability to explore and experiment. It would be easy to conclude that all stress is bad, and that stress is to be avoided. That would be a mistake. While it is true that stressful experiences can keep us from doing our best work, sometimes the opposite of that is also true.
Much is made of the value of stretch goals. Managers love them, consultants pontificate about them and employees are victimized by them. There is irony in stretch goals, also. Those those people and organizations that are best able to leverage stretch goals often don’t. What constitutes “stretch” is variable, and varies for each of us. They are not necessarily attainable, at times they aren’t even reasonable, and in all instances we are walking the razor’s edge between success and failure. We need to be okay with that. Especially now.