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Failure Is An Option

Recently, I had a big failure. It was really pretty minor in the grand scheme of things, but for me it was big. I put hours and hours into achieving this one goal and didn’t even get close!  

It all started in early 2016 when I decided to be a runner. I’ve never been interested in running marathons. I just wanted to run 5Ks (3.1 miles) and run them faster. I’ve always been pretty active and had run a few races in the past, but no serious training. My best time prior to 2016 was around 27 minutes. After a few months of consistent training, I finished my first 5k in under 25 minutes. The night of that race, I decided to go for a much bigger goal: sub-22 minutes sometime in 2017.

In April this year, I was surprised when I finished a downtown Cape 5k in about 23:40. This was the encouragement I needed to kick training into high gear. With growing confidence, I set my sites on the City of Roses 5k on Sept. 15. I’ll spare you the ugly details of the actual race, but ultimately, I hit a proverbial wall halfway. I walked and jogged the second half, finishing in an incredibly disappointing 26:40, which is close to my time before I started training.  

Once the physical pain subsided, I immediately began dissecting the race…desperately trying to understand what went wrong. How did I fail so spectacularly? By the end of the night though, I had already identified the next race and formulated an adjusted training strategy. But more than anything, I actually started to feel pretty positive about the whole experience.

Look, this isn’t my first failure and not even close to the biggest. And yes, I’ve grown from the journey, but ultimately this made me think about failure on a much broader scale in my world. Specifically, what are the roles I’m playing in business and as a parent in creating a culture where those around me are willing to fail? Are they excited to tackle a big challenge, knowing it might not work. Am I there at the end condemning them for getting something wrong, patting them on the back saying “it’s OK,” or instead cheering for them and saying “that was awesome and look at what we know now.” And that’s my challenge to you, how are your words, actions and reactions contributing to your employees, co-workers, children, even your own willingness to take on the next big challenge?    

When we can embrace, even encourage, the right kind of failure, we can help our organizations and our community grow. To dig a little deeper on this topic, here’s a great TED Talk on how Google X celebrates failure:

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