The Benefit of Failure in Shaping Your Ideal Life

To say it’s been a little tough this last six or so months is like saying “babies are kinda cute.” Babies HAVE to be cute (ask any parent of a colicky baby). 

Undeniably, indisputably, undoubtedly, our work or life has been impacted in many not so great (and maybe some great) ways during this pandemic (just like life throws us curve balls when there’s no global health crisis). The benefit at least is we’re all in this together. We have a shared understanding in this worldwide situation. 

Even if we are in this together, it still begs the question, how do we manage this protracted period of stress, frustration and strain? Here are four lessons I pulled from podcast episodes over the last year. If you are looking for insights to help your health and wellbeing, or that of someone you care about, read on and forward.

  1. Failure Empowers You to Stop Settling 

Thumbnail for Level Up Your Life with Sarah McVanel Flipping Failure podcastResiliency Expert Mark Black could have looked at his life of being born with a “defective” heart (and having had to have two major heart transplants before the age of 20 as a result) as a bad lot in life. but he didn’t. In our conversation on his podcast Level Up your Life, we dove into how our greatest obstacles in life turned out to be the very thing that allows us to follow our path, level up our life, and set bigger goals than we ever would have otherwise. I really mean it when I shared with Mark: “Once you truly start to look around at your life, and all of the things that you have been putting up with, you actually realize that you’ve been settling. Key points in our conversation:  

  • A crisis moment that leads to a massive life transformation.
  • A wacky idea that ended up being a great one.
  • What’s conditional, what’s optional, and what’s not
  • What does levelling up look like to you?
  • What is the Flipside of Failure?
  1. Failure Enables You to Reflect on Why Things Aren’t Worse

Thumbnail for How to Embrace Failure as a Leader with Sarah McVanel podcastPsychotherapist and Mental Health expert Roxanne Derhodge has seen a spike in her practice during COVID. Although we recorded this episode on Authentic Living with Roxanne pre-pandemic, the advice is still relevant. We talked about how failure and disappointment may make you initially think things like “why me”, “why bother”, “why this is happening” and the link, it also enables you to ask “why aren’t things worse?” If you are looking for perspective, lean into what’s irking and roadblocking you to consider if there is an even worse case scenario. Here are key points in our conversation:

  • How my latest book almost failed. 2:30
  • Sarah’s journey.  8:25
  • The theme of failure.  17:30
  • Dealing with failure as a leader. 24:45
  • The failure resilient mindset. 29:45
  • Why aren’t things worse?  40:50
  • The “gift” of failure.  43:30
  1. Failure Can Bond Us (Better than Success Ever Can)

How Can I Say This with Sarah McVanel podcast thumbnailOn Beth Buelow’s podcast How Can I Say This, we did a dive deep about the misconception that failure is divisive versus unifying. Who among us hasn’t experienced deep frustration, heartbreak, humiliation? Yet we often keep it to ourselves. We don’t ask for help. We think people will judge us if we show weakness or need help. In the midst of this global health crisis, maybe we finally have a chance to let down the wall and connect through what’s tough and what’s working. If ever there has been a failure tolerance (in ourselves and others), it should be now. Listen to part one and part two for tips on how to have failure-resilient conversations. Here are key points in our conversation:

From Part 1: 

  • What we can learn from authors like Brené Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert & Anne Lamott
  • The importance of knowing how failure resilient versus failure resistant you are right now (quiz here)
  • That our failure mindset impacts the types of conversations we have

From Part 2:

  • How healthcare has made strides because it acknowledged that it’s the highest incident rate industry (and put legislation in place like the Canada’s Apology Act of 2009)
  • That there is a movement of embracing and learning from failure (e.g., FailureCon, Museum of Failure, Failure Lab
  • That any organization wanting to truly embrace a continuous improvement culture values the surfacing of issues so they can be fixed (this is the Toyota Lean way)
  1. Failure Can Clarity What you Love (and Don’t Love) About Your Life

Thumbnail for Charge in Business and Life Podcast with Sarah McVanelOn the Charge in Business and Life podcast, Gary Wilbers and Sarah talk about their shared experience that if you don’t love what you do, you won’t do it as well as you can. Sometimes that means trying some things that don’t work and realizing, “hey, this isn’t for me.” We need to not judge ourselves when this happens. This realization allows you to clarify the value you uniquely offer. If you charge forward without a direction, it’s like running around in the dark.

  • Sarah McVanel’s success habits include getting up early to make a cup of tea and reading before she starts work; setting a priorities list; creating vetting criteria in which to make decisions.
  • Charging into the things you love  (and how for Sarah that was specializing in recognition)
  • Why Sarah sold everything and quit her career
  • “I do everything” = I do nothing
  • You’ll be further behind if you don’t make mistakes and try
  • Failure is not necessarily problematic. It’s only problematic when you don’t get a lesson and don’t learn from it.
  • Every person needs to feel valued, appreciated, and heard (even when they fail)

If you know someone who would benefit from listening to one of these podcasts, please forward this to them as say, “you are worth seeing the value I see in you.” We are #inthistogether as we find the #flipsideoffailing.

In case you missed the past couple of weeks and want more great ideas for flipping failure into something fantastic, check out the links below:



“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

Deb Rakonjac

Organizational Development, Purolator Inc.

"Sarah nailed it!  She worked with the planning group to learn about the organization, the audience, the desired key messages and integrated it seamlessly into her keynote. Her energy was contagious! We received rave reviews of this portion of our event and Sarah was able to speak to all members of our organization in a way that motivated them to recognize others everyday. Our executives were extraordinarily pleased and integrated FROGging into their recent board meeting. Purolator is grateful to Sarah for dropping the pebble and we continue to see the ripples from this session across the organization. Working with Tami was phenomenal and the supports were easy to integrate to ensure the session went well. Thanks to you both!!"
Douglas D Swift

President & CEO, Swiftco Inc.

"I have had the Sarah experience in numerous settings: As a keynote, around a table with several other business owners, one on one over coffee, chatting with others at a conference reception, dining with a small group of colleagues. No matter the setting you always get the same Sarah: engaging, attentive, interested, inspiring, motivational, genuine. And always with an infectious smile. Do yourself, your company, your association a favour. Get the Greatness Magnified (Sarah) experience. The payback is priceless."
Judy Kucharuk

Director, Marketing and Special Events, Encana Events Centre

"Funny, full of energy and incredibly motivating – all words to use when describing Sarah and her passionate stage presence. We were fortunate to have Sarah join us as a speaker for Spark Women’s Leadership Conferences and her presentations about leveraging greatness hit the core of our objective at SPARK: “A rising tide lifts all boats”. I would not hesitate to recommend Sarah to other organizations that are searching for a well-prepared, well-organized, thoughtful and passionate storyteller."
Shelley VanVeen

Learning & Development Manager, Libro Credit Union

"Sarah brought so much energy and enthusiasm to our International Women’s Day event at Libro! Her message was uplifting, thought-provoking and truly appreciated by our team. Dealing with Sarah was wonderful – she was open, professional and willing to work with us to customize her message to incorporate our culture and connect to our topic and participants. During the session, she was a pro with a powerful message and a fantastic delivery. We had wonderful feedback from all that attended and can’t wait to have Sarah back for another session in the future!"
Sylvia D’Intino

Executive Director, Community Living Hamilton

"THANK YOU so very much for leading the engagement activities today! You’re a constant professional, with an amazing attitude and always seeing the great in everyone. I am grateful for how you have helped us this year to transform our in-person staff recognition events into virtual and on-location events. Our staff feel more inspired, appreciated and motivated after they hear you speak, and I know our amazing in-house team here looks forward to designing engaging appreciation events with your support."
Melissa Chaulk

Manager of Professional Development

Canadian Dental Hygienists Association

"We work hard at CDHA to give our members a wonderful conference experience, so we were thrilled to have received resoundingly positive feedback on Sarah's opening plenary keynote. It was the highest attended of the entire conference for both dates!"
Jamie Campbell

Director, The Center for People in Organizational Development, Sheridan College

"Smart, challenging, innovative, committed, dependable, and reliable, I highly recommend her for all your recognition needs. I have brought Sarah into my last two organizations to help build a culture of recognition and celebration. The focus on appreciation is more important now than ever."

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