Just when you start writing about what can be learned from failing (and, more importantly, bouncing back) up pop other posts on the same topic. Maybe it’s the zeitgeist, maybe it truly is as hugely important as I think it is, or maybe when browsing the vastness of the internet you inevitably spot things you’re looking for.
In any case, I was delighted to hear about a London school’s initiative* to help their students – all academic high flyers, it seems – accept and use mistakes and disappointment positively by instituting a ‘Failure Week’. Genius! With a whole themed week of activities, the school has itself shown willingness to take a risk, by getting out of the comfort zone of the usual curriculum to give students time and space to think about big concepts. One of the speakers who came to inspire pupils with stories about making the most of bad situations was a man who “failed” to reach the summit of Everest. With that kind of example, it’s easy to see how a failure can be an incredible, life-changing experience. And there isn’t a risk-free version of Everest.
I’m willing to bet that he can quite honestly say he did his best and couldn’t have done any more. In fact, he may well not even have technically done anything wrong. When you step out on a brave adventure, there are so many variables and factors to consider that they can’t all be controlled with absolute certainty. Of course you must plan carefully. Of course you need to consider the risks and aim to mitigate against them. When you’ve done all that, though, the time comes that you just have to go for it!
Life without challenge may feel comfortable for a while, but it can easily become dull and even depressing. The strange thing is how long it can take to notice that normality has shifted and instead of being nicely in balance, it’s beginning to weigh you down. It can be surprisingly tricky to pinpoint just why you’re bored and deflated when everything looks good on paper. It just dawn on you that something’s not quite right and suddenly, in spite of the familiarity, you’re not quite so comfortable. But what can you do about it? After all, there’s the fear that if you rock the boat you might fall out and lose everything. Most of us have good things in our lives that we don’t want to change or sacrifice, but the good news is nobody says you have to risk absolutely everything, all at once. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense to keep hold of the things that make you happy so they can be your anchor when you set sail into the stormy seas of the unknown.
How about this for a plan of adventure: Decide what’s most important and must stay in place, then drop anchor. Pause a moment to consider how much you need all the other stuff – and what’s just flotsam and jetsam to be dumped overboard. Then climb into your dinghy, checking first that it’s sea-worthy and you have the oars on board. All you need’s your life jacket and some fresh water and you’re ready to row out to explore the undiscovered island. You don’t like the island? You figure out how to avoid bugs and spiders and get a few grazes on the sharp rocks and head back to your ship to recover. Some would call it failure, I’d call it learning. You like the island? It’s the best place for you to be? Row back, pick up your stuff and move in. If you run out of things to do here, there are plenty more islands to check out. Welcome to paradise!
*Thanks to Author Emma Unsworth for bringing this to my attention, via my Mum (you can follow her on twitter @emjaneunsworth)