Two months ago, I had the privilege of speaking again at the Spark Women’s Leadership Conference. The attendees and organizers know that I’m a recognition expert and that my brand is FROG – Forever Recognize Others’ Greatness™. Imagine their surprise when they realized the title of my new keynote is Flip Side of Failing.
A few people on Facebook messaged me: “Hey Sarah, have you completely changed what you’re talking about? Is this not your focus anymore?” I couldn’t wait to share with them that it is through our failures that we can best leverage and harness our greatness. And that when we can recognize ourselves and others unconditionally, despite a failure, now that is truly authentic and meaningful recognition. This was a lesson I would learn through the pursuit of writing my fourth book, Flip Side of Failing: How to Leverage and Recognize Greatness in Work and Life.
While interviewing Everest climbers, 3M scholars, Olympians, Paralympians, philanthropists and people who aren’t necessarily famous but had overcome incredible things in their lives, I learned about their incredible achievements. Some had been born into challenging emotional, abusive, or even physically taxing circumstances, and they rose above it to achieve extraordinary things. All of these people I had put on a pedestal for greatness, which is why I asked them to be interviewed for this book. The irony was that they all spoke about their failures and struggles, which actually served to level the playing field, making them just like “you and me”. The irony was that one core theme that every great Canadian mentioned was how important their failures were in their lives. And that how they handled failure was how they handled everything in life. Failure was, amazingly, at the root to their greatness.
If you don’t shy away from failure, you’re not afraid to share it. These great Canadians shared it in their interviews even when it was unsolicited. And many even share their failures very publicly through books, professional speaking and in their social media presence. What is the reaction? Do people unfriend them, reject them, shy away from them? No. They’re attracted to them. They’re admired for their bravery to share their stories. Their stories are relatable to people.
In other words, failure is actually one of the greatest ways to build meaningful connections. Think about authentically connecting on the things that didn’t work well. Do you bond and connect with those people better than others who always seem like they have that picture perfect, filtered lifestyle? We don’t even understand those people. Not only that, we get into “comparitis.” We think, “What’s wrong with me? They’re so great. I can’t measure up,” and then we get down about ourselves. Not only that, it activates our shame centres.
As we’ve learned from Brene Brown and other researchers who help us understand trust, shame, vulnerability, courage, and bravery, that it is actually not necessarily through our successes that we find our greatness. It is by leaning into the things that are most challenging and that leave us feeling vulnerable. Fear of failure or the failure itself is one of the most vulnerable of experiences because of how we view failure in our society (look no further than the dictionary definition…who would want it?!)
Consider that there can be a flip side, particularly if you have been beating yourself up, if you work in an environment that shames and blames mistakes, or you look around at your life and you think, “everyone else is doing so much better than me/us?” This does not lead you to your team or your organization’s greatness. This roadblocks connection, fragments relationships and fuels isolation. Learning from the great Canadians in my book, it’s actually lean into their failures that connects them to others. Your failure is your humanity. It’s what connects us all, and needn’t tear us apart or down.
When you look at the people who’ve inspired you most in your life, your mentors, your supporters, your caregivers, it’s probably the people who have overcome a challenge, and you think, “Wow. If they can do it, so can I.” Imagine authentically sharing the challenge and failure. Imagine what it could do for other people.
Want to dive deeper into understanding the flip side of failing? Why don’t you jump over here to some resources.