I got a call a couple of weeks ago from a young journalist (who is now probably put off motherhood for life given what was going on in the background and my seeming inability to string a sentence together – why oh why didn’t I let the answering service kick in?) seeking my views on the psychology of young women and failure. She told me about a brilliant teacher at an all girls school in Wimbledon who’d recently run an experiment to help her young minds cope with failure; the so called “Failure Fortnight.” Apparently the vast majority of her pupils would rather swallow a pill and never experience any failings in life than give things a go and learn along the way.
Failing’s tough, especially when you’re young and so much of the ego is wrapped up in what people think of us and how we compare to others. But if we don’t fail when we’re young what hope do we have of cultivating a healthy attitude to failing as we get older and there’s a greater need to put ourselves about, try new things and give things a go (I’m thinking job applications and wider career success here).
I got to thinking philosophically (oh how much Earl Grey tea and a winged armchair has to answer for) about what failure is and whether we can ever say we’ve failed until we get to the end of our lives. Surely a ‘failing’ is simply one more step along the way to whatever we do next. Without that ‘failing’ we might never have got to where we are today. And here’s the big thought I had about my own life: am I failing enough? What a whopper of a question, time to put the kettle on again and crack open the chocolate ginger biscuits. I’ll let you know when I’ve got a clearer picture. Oh but no, I can’t leave you dangling like that. In all seriousness I don’t think I am and that’s not meant to sound conceited, it’s an acknowledgement that I’m not taking enough risks in my work to be as successful as I think I can be and others assume I will be. As Edward De Bono once wrote “if you think every idea is a good idea, you’re not having enough.” I think the same is true of success and failure: if you’re successful without failing, you’re not succeeding enough.
As a coach careful questioning is at the heart of what I do. I often ask women to think about what’s the best that could happen if they gave X, Y or Z or go. And then what’s the worst they could possibly imagine. I’m sure you can imagine that generates a lot of ideas and from there we plot a course of action. There’s another question I’ve often asked which is ‘What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t fail?’ and although it too acts as catalyst for great ideas to come pouring out, I’m not sure if I like it given my recent mind wanderings. What do you think? I’m curious to know.
Were you wondering what did I said to the journalist? I’d like to proclaim I spouted a lot of profound and practical ideas but the truth be told I can’t remember given everything that was going on around me (one child balancing in a tree, the other whacking her head on the new kitchen worktop – the joys of getting to know a new house). I can remember one thing though: praise the girls for giving things a go, rather than the outcome. There’s so much truth in that for all of us.
Have an experimental sort of a start to spring,