Celebrating Failure through a Solution-Focused Lens
After reading an article by Melanie I Stefan in 2010, Johannes Haushofer – Assistant Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs (Princeton University) was inspired to share an alternative resume (2016) where he listed all of his career failures (e.g., degrees he did not get into, jobs he did not get, awards and scholarships he did not get, meta failures, etc.). He called it a Personal CV of Failure and presented it as an opportunity to ‘balance the record and provide some perspective’. Haushofer felt that the act of acknowledging failures would make people feel better, and it did. It helped people lighten up about, and learn from failure. Since that time, Haushofer acknowledges that his CV of failures has received much more attention than the entire body of his academic work. I see Haushofer’s approach to failure as a great starting point to supporting personal growth and healthy relationships.
Supporting Personal Growth
The concept of writing down our failures or setbacks – instead of our traditional list of accomplishments, is truly a solution-focused way in which to engage with failure. Whether we write our thoughts in the form of a resume or just as informal notes, we open ourselves up to examining our failures without judgment. We begin to view our failures differently, not as deterrents, but as existing within a landscape of possibility – where successes are scattered amongst the failure. In this hopeful space, the concept of failure takes on a very different tone. Instead of dwelling on setbacks, we can examine what worked within each of these setbacks. We can begin to understand what actually contributed to our learning, growth or well-being, even if we didn’t make the full gain or win. For example, you may have had what you perceived as a terrible interview that didn’t get you the job, but upon closer reflection, you see that there were some elements of this interview that were successful. Perhaps you were well informed, perhaps you made an effort to be approachable, or maybe you shared a worthwhile example. Reflecting on these positive contributions within the failed experience inspires confidence to approach situations differently next time, knowing that we have the ability to replicate these successes. We have the ability to build upon elements that worked and will work again.
How we bring ourselves to relationships begins with how we feel about ourselves. When we are able to celebrate our accomplishments over our failures, and find successes within our failures, we bring an element of confidence, flexibility and self-forgiveness to relationships. We effectively change the dynamic in relationships simply by setting up more flexible expectations where participants don’t always have to get everything right, and where we can learn from our interactions with each other – whether they have been successful or not.
As well, the topic of failure can raise fears in adults and children alike, as we all have a tendency to set high expectations for personal accomplishment. Failure can become the enemy that consistently creeps in and causes stress in our lives. When we model a mindset to what we have accomplished rather than how we have failed, we inspire an invitation in our relationships to address and talk about failure without stigma or fear. We can also actively deflate the ‘failure narrative’ and reduce pressure by comfortably sharing our own setbacks with each other. No one is immune to failure and we can talk about the many nuggets of opportunity within it.
- shift how we think about our failures as we examine them comfortably and without judgment, and view them as existing within a landscape of possibility. Failure can actually be helpful.
- see that we never completely fail. There are always elements of gain in every fail.
- tease out positive factors within the failures themselves. What worked? What did we learn? What contributed to our learning?
- see that these positive factors contribute to a gradual development of knowledge and skills toward better outcomes.
- talk about failures through this positive and constructive lens.
The following are some questions you can ask yourself, your family, friends and and/or colleagues when they reveal their stress around failure:
- What are your best hopes should a similar experience reoccur?
- How could you manage it differently?
- How do you know this will be helpful?
- What worked this time?
- What positive contributions (even if small) did you make to this experience?
- How was this helpful?
Failure should not be a subject to avoid. When viewed as a learning opportunity, it can inspire new ways of thinking and of taking action toward our best hopes. It can build character and confidence.
If you have enjoyed this newsletter, if you would like to continue the conversation, or if you would like to provide some feedback, please contact me at www.relationspaces.com.
Vicky Essebag – MEd – CPSY, OCT, CSFC (Toronto, Canada)
copyright 2023 Vicky Essebag. Used with permission.