I Didn’t Fail, My Actions Were Ineffective

By Bernard Callus on 17 July 2019

Who likes to fail? I don’t. For me, failure is possibly the hardest thing I have learned to cope with. My fear of failure was very limiting and in many aspects I set my life up to avoid failure. Despite being unfulfilled, the biggest reason I remained a scientist for over 20 years was the fear of failing if I changed career direction. I chose to stay miserable rather than risk failure. In other areas of my life, if I believed I could not succeed at something I would often stop before I started. Clearly this self-limiting belief did not serve me at all well. The thought of failure almost stopped me from starting a relationship with my now wife. Thankfully, she did not let my fear stop me and we are approaching our first wedding anniversary in August. To deal with my fear I’ve had to learn to reframe failure.

Stop blaming everybody else

One of my greatest lessons was to stop blaming everyone else. Throughout my research career I had many ‘unsuccessful’ grant applications. I used to blame the reviewers or the panel that assessed my grant weren’t objective or competent, or that the system doesn’t work. I’d avoid responsibility and blame anyone but me. The cold, hard truth of it was that I had to accept that my grant simply wasn’t good enough and I needed to do better. I discovered the most effective way to do this was to re-frame failure as a learning opportunity. Failure sucks, but instructs!

Acknowledge that your actions were ineffective

Over the years I learned to reframe “I am a failure” to “my actions were ineffective.” This simple acknowledgment and reframe allows me to remove the significance and emotion and rationally examine where my actions weren’t effective. Close inspection of my actions allows me to identify the gaps and make key improvements for next time. Reframing failure as an opportunity for learning and growth is the pathway to success.

To be successful you have to be willing to fail more

How true? I thoroughly enjoyed reading “Creative Confidence” by Tom and David Kelly. The authors describe “creative geniuses” as people that fail often and keep going, “taking more shots at the goal.” Indeed, “if you want more success you have to be prepared to shrug off more failure.” This is where grit and perseverance come in. We have to be willing to get up and have another go.

Fear, especially the fear of failure, is likely the biggest reason that stops us from taking action. The question is where do you let fear stop you? Where can you start to reframe the failures in your life as opportunities for growth and learning? Learn to accept failure. Embrace it as a path to success. Don’t allow the fear of failing stop you from enjoying the success you want.