Everywhere you turn these days, people who’ve “made it” are encouraging us to embrace failure. Denzel Washington told the 2011 graduating class at Ivy League University of Pennsylvania that if they’re not failing, they’re not trying.

Tavis Smiley’s new book “Fail Up” recounts many crisis along his life path that could have easily derailed the successful, high-profile media personality.

This notion is very difficult for many – including me – to surrender to, even though safe, guarenteed outcomes are an illusion. With each decision we make, we weigh the risks and the benefits, and move toward the outcome we feel we can most easily live with. Often times we end up not achieving our dreams because we were so afraid of failure that we don’t even try.

A colleague recently shared with me that during a discussion with friends, they all agreed that there’s little reward for doing what you’re supposed to do. Coloring between the lines doesn’t get you noticed. Instead, it gets you overlooked, because the spotlight and attention are on the people “in trouble.” How many times have you heard about CEO’s who failed miserably, were fired and then hired by another prestigious company? I bet you don’t have to think long or hard to find a story of a colleague or acquaintance who got promoted even though everyone thought they were a “screw up.”

So what does this mean to you and your success path? If you’re a “play it safe” kind of person, how can you learn to love failure? How can we dilusional safe seekers become dream-fulfilling risk takers?

1) Learn to recognize when you’re letting fear of failure keep you from doing something you really want versus making a rational decision about doing something that’s not right for you.

2) Let your Authentic Self be your guide. Don’t grasp at things that are just about making money, following other people’s dreams (like the guy on the infomercial who makes a million dollars a month flipping real estate) or impressing the opposite sex. Those motivators aren’t enough to carry you through the thorny path to success. “LIES That Limit: Uncover the Truth Of Who You Really Are” is a tremendous tool for identifying your Authentic Self.

3) When seeking advice from friends, rather then taking their criticism as a reason not to proceed, use it as a way to inform yourself about the obstacles you’ll face and figure out how to overcome them.

4) Make a list of the things you failed at that didn’t get you fired, killed or banished from a group you cherish. We’ve all failed at something and still we’re here to tell the tale. Remembering that those failures didn’t completely do us in helps put the risks into perspective.

5) Don’t plan for what you’ll do if you fail. That gives you a mental out that will make it easier for you to give up.

6) Take small, slightly riskier steps forward than you feel comfortable with.

7) Educate yourself on what it would take, make a list of what you need to do and start knocking the items off one at a time. As you find out what it takes, there will be steps that feel overwhelming and frightening. Address the aprehension you’re feeling by asking yourself exactly what you’re afraid of instead of letting that feeling in your chest stop you in your tracks. Say it out loud. Write it down. It’s occupies more space in your head then it will out in the universe.

8) Know your boundaries. Donald Trump takes big risks, but he also has big resources to back him up. I don’t imagine he’ll ever take a big enough risk to lose everything, and neither should you.

Reconnect with your Authentic Self.  Read “LIES That Limit.”

  1. I enjoyed this post, Teressa. I liked particularly your comment about “put risks in perspective.” Your book, LIES That Limit, speaks to a tendency many of us have to make risks big, such that it keeps us from acting. I think in this time of graduations that is one thing we who have worked in organizations can point out to new graduates. I am noticing in my current work coaching executives in a large organization that it is so easy for people to develop a tendency not to speak up, or not question a decision, or not confront. And the reason I say it is easy is that I find MYSELF influenced in this way, even as an outside consultant, by the organization’s culture. I am very conscious now that I have to regularly remind myself to make the risk realistic. Something in many organizational cultures works against failing and risk-taking.

    One of my measures for knowing I may need to take a risk is when I find myself gossiping and not talking to a person directly. Or when I feel enticed to gossip.

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