I do not think that word “failure” means what you think it means….

inigo-montoya-failure -rachel-frenchSaw something interesting today while scrolling mindlessly through my Facebook feed (Can you say “work avoidance?” Say it with me, y’all.). I’m paraphrasing, but here’s the gist:

  1. Something happens that doesn’t mean anything.
  1. You assign meaning to it.
  1. You decide how to feel about the event based not on what happened and the actual results of what happened but instead on the meaning you assigned to what happened.
  1. You continue to move through the world seeing things through the lens of what things MEAN rather than what they are and what you can do to create better outcomes.

I’m guilty of this very thing, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see how silly it is. And I see how damaging it can be. I’ve seen it for myself, and in others. Failure is a part of a life. But what does failure MEAN?

 
In the words of Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

As Exhibit A, I offer the friend who believes that she must suffer in order to pay for all the real (and imagined!) sins and mistakes she makes. Whenever something bad happens, she feels she deserves it.

Turn your attention to Exhibit B, the colleague who tirelessly seeks out stories of friends and strangers who have situations similar to his. When things either work out marvelously or terribly for the other person, he compares his intrinsic value as a human being against his idea of that person’s value and then decides whether he is likely to have an outcome that is better, worse, or the same as the one he witnessed.

Exhibit C, my favorite, was obviously raised believing she can be anything and do anything because her self-esteem is in the upper stratosphere (I’m not jealous, really. Okay, maybe just a little.). No matter what happens, no matter how dire the circumstances or devastating the catastrophe, she shrugs it off. Sounds good, right? Except that she takes NO accountability for her part in any failures, which results in her being [blissfully?] unaware of how she could have created far better outcomes. In a manner of speaking, she leaves cosmic money on the table everywhere she goes.

Bad things happen when you do the wrong thing. Bad things happen when you do the right thing. Good things happen, too…sometimes BECAUSE of what you do and sometimes IN SPITE of what you do.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I’m no huge fan of the law of attraction or The Secret. It’s an oversimplification of what I believe we need to do to create positive results in our lives. I mean, does like attract like? Yep. Does water seek its own level? For sure.  If you’re cranky and negative, does that make it harder for you to bond with people who are cheerful and positive and make it more likely for you to connect with other cranky, negative people? Definitely.

But the idea of things manifesting themselves merely because you envisioned them and willed them into being or articulated your intentions? Sigh. I just don’t buy it. I can introduce you to 50 people right now who talk a big game and believe they’ll be the greatest just because they deserve it…and have absolutely nothing to show for all that bravado and confidence.

Hard work (complemented by a positive attitude and even a smidge of luck) is the most important thing you can control that will yield positive results. It isn’t always enough, but it’s a darn good place to start.

What breaks my heart is watching Exhibit A beat herself up, and knowing that Exhibit B is in constant competition with others, and wondering how much Exhibit C has lost by failing to develop some personal insight.

Freud is credited with saying, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” (Apropos of nothing, he also said “Time spent with cats is never wasted.”)And while life is full of difficulties and tragedies and trials, none of them has anything to do with your self-worth. And not all of them can be avoided–no matter how hard you work or how much positivity you try to manifest.

I don’t have all the answers, but I know that if you’ve read this far, you’re probably one of those people who beats themselves up when things don’t go well and wonders what THIS failure means about you as a person or a professional and what THAT failure means in terms of your long-term success in your business, your career, your relationships, and your life. It’s exhausting, isn’t it?

All I can say is that sometimes a cigar IS just a cigar, and we would be wise to be very, very hesitant about assigning wide-sweeping meaning to small events we call failures. If there’s one thing we know for sure, thriving (in life and business ) is a marathon, not a sprint, and we don’t do ourselves any favors when we decide the outcome of the race in mile one just because we stubbed our toe.

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