A client got me thinking about the way we view failure. As both an athlete and a coach, I fail a lot, and that’s not a bad thing…
The best thing about coaching, or any form of leadership, it that there is much that can be learned simply by doing it. You know, hands-on. Unfortunately, this is also the worst thing about coaching. Doing things hands-on on means that there are going to be moments when you fail, and fail a lot.
In a multitude of ways, this is similar to being a trainee: you can READ an awful lot about how to hinge, for example, but until you actually grab hold of a barbell/kettlebell/trap bar and DO it, you just don’t have all of the pieces of the puzzle.
Formal education has tremendous importance, don’t get me misconstrued. There is a wealth of quality information out there that you can (and should) be consuming, but there are things that one can only learn by doing. Whether it is teaching you how to hinge, or teaching someone how to teach you how to hinge, there are practical aspects of this art that you just can’t read about in books. This is true in most areas of life, by the way.
This means you are going to fail. You are going to fail a lot. At least, you are if you want to learn, and grow, and improve.
But this is only bad if you frame it that way.
Recently, a client who is planning on being in the New York area remarked that she thought about cancelling her trip because she has had some dietary hiccups and felt as though she “failed me”.
This got me wondering about ME, and if I had failed HER as a coach. If she thought that I would view a mistake as an abject failure and chastise her for it, clearly I was not communicating my expectations well. Although I talk often about my Ego Oriented past, education and experience has transformed me into a very process and Mastery oriented person, and I approach my coaching the same way.
Failure is part of the overall process. Failure leads to success, and is often inevitable.
For example, on the Neurology side of the house, it is said that motor learning happens through failure. This makes perfect sense if you have had the opportunity to watch a child learn to walk. Does a child simply stand up and saunter into the living room out of the blue? Of course not. The act of learning to walk is an entire process that starts out with tasks as mundane as learning to breathe, brace, and roll over. Through numerous failures, mistakes, and self- correction, we eventually learn to do!
The fact that I did not make it clear to my client that failure was not just acceptable, but expected was a failure on MY part. Yes, it sucks. Yes, my feelings were hurt. However, the real failure would be if I hadn’t developed the ability to fail a lot and adjust my coaching in order to not repeat the same mistakes with someone else.
Too often, as coaches or athletes, we want to be perfect. As a coach, I want to see my clients grow and succeed…that’s how it goes when you really care about people.
However, it is critical that we learn to separate ourselves from the goals and outcomes that our clients seek.
I am a facilitator.
I do nothing.
The client does the work and I merely provide oversight.
They are not “my” athletes. They allow me the honor of training them.
Being afraid of failure is, at its core, a very Ego Oriented thing. It stems from a fear of looking bad in front of others, an environment where looking better than peers was stressed over improvement, and a social structure that stressed winning over mastery. This may seem benign, but allowing an Ego Orientation to control us can push us towards Failure Avoidance.
Failure avoidance means:
- Negative self-talk
- Choosing inferior competition (to guarantee winning)
- Selecting goals that are too easy (ensures successful completion…but no growth)
- Selecting goals that are impossibly hard (provides an excuse for not reaching the goal)
- And so on, and so on…
This all leads us down the wrong path. True mastery involves learning, overcoming, and flow. Flow can only be obtained when we are selecting goals that are appropriately challenging for our current skills, which means that an appropriate goal will always be within our reach, yet always carry with it a small risk of failure.
This is ok!
The real “failure” isn’t in making mistakes, but rather in not learning from the mistakes we make, dusting ourselves off, and moving forward.
So fail, fail a lot…