A cracked egg spilling over a cooking bowl

Let’s face it, failing is something that will happen to all of us (and multiple times); it’s a fact of life. We also all need a little pick-me-up when we’re mourning the loss of the goal we set our sights for.

Just like the inspirational quotes will tell us, what we do with our failure/s, depends on us. I appreciate that it’s easy to say that and less so to feel that there’s any way beyond the feeling of failure. Of the many times I have failed, I try, with all my might, to reflect. Perhaps more than I should; but I reflect.

Not too long ago, I had the privilege of being involved in planning one of my favourite professional development conferences; the Queensland Law Society’s Annual Succession & Elder Law Conference. As part of the opening of the conference, an amazing woman by the name of Dr Helena Popovic, graced the stage. Dr Popovic was there to talk to us all about brain function and boosting our brain and, in doing so, focused on a few tips to help us boost those beautiful brain cells. Now, Dr Popovic has quite a few ‘wow’ factors, but I want to touch on one thing that really resonated with me; feedback, not failure.

Turning failure into feedback is a pretty spectacular thing. It’s easy to say, harder to do, but boy are the benefits invaluable. Being a typical lawyer, I like breaking things down, so let’s do that.

Let’s look at some definitions – but let’s look at them progressively and then in aggregate.

Fail (verb) – to be unsuccessful in achieving one’s goal

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Success (noun) – the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.

Goal (noun) – the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.

Feedback (noun) – information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.

Reaction (noun) – something done, felt, or thought in response to a situation or event.

Improve (verb) – make or become better.

When we think about goals we set ourselves in real life, we probably think of that one goal. However, when you sit and break down each of the steps required to achieve that goal, there are probably lots of mini-but just-as-important-goals within it. Even deeper than that, is perhaps not the question “what is the goal?”, maybe it’s more “why do I want to achieve this goal?”. If it’s a professional accomplishment, is it for the accolades? Is it to develop your skill-set? Is it to put that achievement on your resume to get you a better job?

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When you break things down in this way, you may find that your “why” is the real goal and the steps required to achieve the goal may be more intrinsic to your own personal growth then achieving “the goal” itself. Maybe there is more to be gained in the journey than the destination. In addition to this, your goals may (and likely do) change and evolve as you move through journeys. This leads to learning, growth, and experience in seeking that goal, and more again if you don’t achieve it.

Which brings us then to feedback. If the real reason you want to accomplish that goal is for some other bigger reason or purpose, then, chances are, the steps involved in working towards that goal are likely to be seriously valuable to your personal development and growth. In my view, this means that those steps deserve meaningful consideration, for your own benefit.

[Side note] Yes, I agree that sometimes “The whole is greater than the some of it’s parts” (Aristotle), but I also believe in finding meaning in the experience, particularly when you are going through self-reflection, which can be distorted when you’re always looking at the ‘big picture’.

Importantly, the work that you have done toward accomplishing that goal is not misused or wasted time; it’s experience. Experience informs, helps us improve and improvement requires feedback; each of these being unique to you.

The legal profession is competitive and full of egos and, when it comes to Court, there’s generally always a ‘winner’ and a ‘loser’ so, of course, when we lose, it’s easy to feel the burden of failure. However, without that failure, what do we learn? What feedback do we receive? If we win, do we reflect as deeply on that journey; maybe, maybe not. I suspect we’re not as likely to reflect and be constructive with our reflection if we have “won” because we’d probably feel pretty good about the outcome.

But, if we ‘fail’, we reflect and we reflect hard. We’re likely to be critical of ourselves (and maybe even others) and feel downright lousy that we haven’t achieved anything. But we have achieved something; we’ve achieved experience and we now have the chance to react and feel something about that experience and we use it to work towards making it better. Can you really say you’d have the same insight if you “won”?

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Failure and feedback are things that will change you; you can either use it’s power for good or for evil.

If we lead with feedback and leave the word ‘failure’ behind, it can be empowering. You shift your mind away from the negative and it may even help you find purpose in the goal not being achieved in the way you wanted in the first place. Perhaps you may also find purpose in your goal changing.

Your goal may even change as a result of this perceived “failure” but, if you turn that failure into feedback and use it to fuel a new fire in your belly, would that be such a bad thing?

Feedback, not failure.

Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It’s the courage to continue that counts.

Winston Churchill

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