Accepting Failure and Creating Change

Last week’s wrap up was all about letting go and, in a way, we are continuing to work on the theme of autumn because it is traditionally the season of harvest. When I think about harvesting, I envision bounty and bushels of produce; in other words I see this as a season of gain. But if you have ever taken part in a harvest (or even a local CSA group) you learn that the season of harvest is both a time to account for the success and failure of the farm.

Very few crops produce in exactly the same way every year. The temperature, soil, seeds, rainfall- all of these factors communally decide what the harvest will look like in a given season. So when the time to gather and reap arrives those who depend on the earth for their livelihood look not only at what they’ve gained but at what they’ve lost. They assess how their hopes measured up to reality and they take stock so that they can respond as effectively as they can in the year to come.

Most harvests culminate around the time that many of us here in the US celebrate Thanksgiving, a time we usually set aside to (as the name might suggest) “give thanks!” Giving thanks, or practicing gratitude, has become incredibly popular in the last few years, and for good reason: practicing gratitude is a way of shifting perspective and this can be a very effective way to re-frame, refocus, and grow healthier.

But sometimes it’s also important to think like a farmer, to take a look at the losses that accompanied the gains and to learn from things that may have turned out less spectacularly than we had hoped they would.

I recently had the chance to sit down and catch up with a good friend. She seemed much more energized than when I saw her last month so I actually stopped our conversation about her recent move to note, “Something seems different.” I half expected her to look at me like I was crazy and reply, “What do you mean?” Instead, a wide smile appeared across her face. “You could tell?” she asked.

Here’s a little background info: For years my friend had been running herself into the ground to meet her yearly quotas and to not “totally bomb” her annual reviews. After she realized I noticed a change, she shared that at her last review in May she found herself so extremely exhausted that she couldn’t even pretend to defend her low performance. She was crushed and confused. “I was legitimately trying to do well but it felt like I was constantly falling way under the bar.” Fortunately, she works for a company that tries to explore it’s employees areas of talent and challenge both before hiring and firing. So my friend was sent to meet with an on-site career counselor three times a week for a month. “Working with the counselor gave me a chance to sit down and check out what was really going on. I took a break from trying to make something work and just got really, really honest.” It was an emotionally trying month but in the end it paid off. “I got to take a very close look at the areas [at work] that were the most stressful for me. I felt like an investigator, picking up on patterns and cycles that always seemed to land me in an energy depleting situation.”

Then one day her counselor asked her to share where, outside of work, she felt like she was excelling, where she felt really connected and alive. She answered that she had recently joined the board for an arts cooperative and was surprised to learn that the creative end of marketing came very naturally for her. She brought this new insight to her bosses and within a few weeks they had set up a trial run for her in the design and marketing department of their company.

Long story short, my friend flourished in her new role and her trial run was extended to a permanent position. I was amazed and at that point asked if I could share her experience with all of you. Obviously, she agreed and (knowing I needed a succinct moral to the story) added, “I wish I had stopped and looked around a little sooner. I was so afraid to admit that something wasn’t working. I spent so much time trying to reach that stupid bar that I didn’t even stop to acknowledge the fact that, in life, there’s more than one bar and this one might not be the best bar for me. Crazy, right? This slight shift has changed my attitude and energy both in and outside of work.”

We are a part of a culture that fears failure and, out of this fear, encourages us to keep trudging forward, to win no matter what the cost.

For the sake of your health, I challenge you to not only fail but to also revisit what went wrong. Act like an investigator, take stock like a farmer, look back at what could have been better so that you can move forward in greater health and deeper understanding.