Have You Made It Okay to Fail?

Life changes when you make it okay to fail. To me, the only true failure is not making an effort toward what brings you joy, and the only way you can do this is by making it okay to fail.
06/17/2013 04:20 pm ET Updated Aug 17, 2013

"Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently." -- Henry Ford

In my work with individuals, I often work with people who are stuck in their lives. They may be stuck in a number of different ways, such as:

  • Stuck in a work-related situation
  • Stuck in a creative endeavor -- music, writing, art
  • Stuck in their personal and/or spiritual growth
  • Stuck in anxiety and/or depression
  • Stuck in finding a relationship
  • Stuck in relationship problems
  • Stuck in making decisions
  • Stuck in boredom and apathy

Invariably, as we delve inside to discover what is keeping them stuck, they say things like:

  • I'm afraid to fail.
  • I can't do it.
  • What if I make a mistake? What if I'm wrong?

Underneath this is a big false belief:

"If I fail, I am a failure. It will prove that I'm inadequate, not good enough, not smart enough."

They are stuck because they believe that it's better not to try -- thereby avoiding the risk of possible failure.

Many people are afraid to fail because of the pressure they feel to succeed. Often this pressure comes from well-meaning parents who, believing they have control over their children succeeding, pressure them by paying for good grades, withdrawing love and approval when their child doesn't do well in school, and/or talking up the importance of success.

What this kind of pressure actually does is take away the child's joy in making a full effort, in meeting challenges, in trying new things, and in experiencing the joy of the learning process itself. In her wonderful book "Mindset," Dr. Carol Dweck does an excellent job of showing the enormous difference between being focused on effort or on outcomes.

It's sad to me that failure has such a bad rap.

Life changes when you make it okay to fail. To me, the only true failure is not making an effort toward what brings you joy, and the only way you can do this is by making it okay to fail. When you make it okay to fail, then the fear of failure doesn't stop you from starting, and doesn't stop you from continuing if you do fail.

While I had a very challenging childhood, the one big gift I received is that my parents couldn't care less about how I did in school. Left to my own, I never lost my love of learning, and since there was no pressure to succeed, I was free to try whatever I wanted and I never worried about the outcome of it. I never even thought about whether or not I could do something -- I just pursued what looked interesting and exciting to me. I took on all kinds of challenges without ever thinking about the end result, and I would keep at something until I mastered it. I didn't care how long it took to get really good at something that I wanted to be good at, and if I lost interest along the way, that was okay too. Since I had no pressure to succeed, I had no problems letting go of something that was no longer of interest to me, and moving on to something else I wanted to learn.

I never thought in terms of failure. It wasn't a word in my vocabulary.

Getting Unstuck: Moving Beyond the Fear of Failure

What would happen in your life if you saw failure as an experience that is letting you know there is more to learn? What if failure really is, as Henry Ford said, "the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently." What if failure is no big deal -- not something to avoid, but just something to learn from? Would you get unstuck if you make it okay to fail and okay to make mistakes? Would you feel free if you didn't judge yourself, making yourself bad or wrong for making mistakes or failing?

Moving beyond failure means taking all self-judgment off the outcome and focusing on effort instead. It means that you define your worth by your willingness to make an effort toward what you want, rather than defining your worth by the outcome.

Are you willing to shift your definition of your worth from outcomes to effort? This one shift in how you define yourself will make all the difference!

Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a relationship expert, best-selling author, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bondingᅡᆴ self-healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah. To begin learning how to love and connect with yourself so that you can connect with others, take advantage of our free Inner Bonding eCourse, receive Free Help, and take our 12-Week eCourse, "The Intimate Relationship Toolbox" - the first two weeks are free! Discover SelfQuestᅡᆴ, a transformational self-healing/conflict resolution computer program. Phone or Skype sessions with Dr. Margaret Paul.

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