I, Katherine Daniel, am a failer.
I know that “failer” is not a real word; after all, I’m a nerd who loves grammar and spelling, and I took nearly every English class possible in college. So I completely own that I have made up this word. But “failer” is a word that means a lot to me, one that I proudly claim.
Despite being a failer, I’m also an over-achiever, and I have been since I was young. When I graduated from high school, I had already taken 18 college credits, and I had envisioned a brilliant college career that I would complete in 3 ½ years.
What happened instead? Life happened. Obstacles happened. The unexpected happened. And it took 5 different universities, 12 moves across 3 states, and 13 years to finish my college degree. That was, for sure, not how I’d planned it.
So I want to share with you what I’ve learned about failing, and why I think reframing our experiences of failure is essential to our success.
There are two ways to approach your goals:
Imagine you’re training for a marathon. You can either focus on running that marathon in four hours — the end goal. Or you focus on your process — training, say, four days a week and trusting that putting in the hard work will help you reach the ultimate goal.
The focus of an end goal is a single moment in time. The focus of a process goal is improving over time. The danger of focusing on an end goal is that any deviation leads to discouragement, disappointment, and defeat. Focusing on the process, on the other hand, allows us to celebrate how far we’ve already come and to see the end goal in a new light. Focusing on the process also means that though we might get off track sometimes, we haven’t lost everything. We can jump back on that track or find a new, improved path — we can keep going — without thinking of our missteps as total defeat. Choose progress over perfection.
As we focus on our processes, we will undoubtedly compare our progress, our lives, our accomplishments (or lack thereof) with others’ progress, lives, and accomplishments. Here’s why that’s a problem:
Comparing your life with others’ lives will inevitably lead to discouragement. And comparing your life with whatever you believe “normal” looks like? Same result. These comparisons often cement our sense of ourselves as failures.
But it’s important to know that there is no normal, no precise standard or designated path that applies to you. There’s only you and your process, your journey. Everyone experiences failure at some point. In fact, failure is what’s normal. It’s what you do with that failure that matters.
Bad failures are those which define us and defeat us. They stop us in our tracks; they tell us to give up. They become a distraction on our path of improvement. But we can turn bad failure into good failure, if we change the way we think about it.
Good failure is the kind that we learn from, that benefits our pursuit of improvement. Good failers don’t look at failure as a barrier to success; in fact, it’s part of our success. We channel our fails to push us further on our path. The high points along the way won’t be any higher, but the low points? Those are not low points any longer — they are the fuel to keep us going.
Good failure isn’t just about learning how to turn our fails into fuel on an individual level. It’s also about sharing our failure and letting others learn from it. I am so thankful for people who are vulnerable and transparent, who are willing to teach me about how they failed and continued on. I am grateful to be part of a team that gives us permission to own our mistakes, to take calculated risks, and to discuss and learn from those experiences, without fear or judgement.
Sharing our fails also helps remove the stigma of failing, and it helps all of us embrace the fact that failing will happen. It also helps us learn to seek opportunities to grow from failing. And then we can journey through life as failers, but not failures. After all, the only difference between a “failure” and a “failer” is you.
In the end, failures are just the fails that we don’t make use of. I am happy to report that, for me, I made it through. I got that degree, that elusive piece of paper. I finished my goal. I finished what I set out to do.
And more importantly, I’ve realized that my experience represents far more than failure or humiliation. In fact, those 13 years of struggle are an integral piece of my success. They were — and are — my fuel and motivation. And they taught me a lot about facing challenges.
I, Katherine Daniel, am a failer. And I have hope that you can be one, too.
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