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Permission to Fail, Sir!

Following on from my last blog post about procrastination, today I want to give you all permission to fail. That might seem counterproductive, particularly for a perfectionist like me. However, Even I have had to concede that I don’t always get it right, and sometimes I am downright wrong. Sometimes I fail.

Growing up, I was pretty much a straight A student. I could read before I started at kindergarten, i loved learning my numbers, and facts and figures caused frissons of pleasure to run up and down my spine. And up until the fourth form, I had managed to maintain that high standard. So what happened?

Well, my family moved from Australia to New Zealand after I had finished my first year at high school - Grade 8 as it was then. I started the next school year in the first year of high school in New Zealand - the Third Form. However, I was finding that I had already done a lot of the basic work in the previous year. I was now not only a straight A student, but I was getting 100% on many of my tests, as well.

Woohoo! I thought. And to my teachers, I was a dream student. Not the only one, I might add, just one of them. Then I hit Fourth Form and the work was now more challenging.

In some classes I was still maintaining high As, but no longer getting 100% on my exams, and instead of celebrating the high grades, I was beginning to think I wasn’t as good at things as I previously was. I remember my mum asking what happened to the other four percent when my science grade was 96% and I was devastated. I know now that she was joking and have long since forgiven her for that remark, but at the time it cut deep. I felt I had to be a 100% student or I was nothing.

That wasn’t the start of my perfectionism, but it was certainly a factor in perpetuating it, and it spilled over into just about every aspect of my life. I became a control-freak. I did everything I possibly could to control myself and my environment. The problem, of course, is that not everything can be so tightly controlled, and things began to unravel.

I made unwise choices, essentially setting myself up for failure, even while trying to maintain my perfectionistic persona. I was a mess!

Fast-forward a few years and two failed marriages later, I was firmly entrenched in the belief that I was, indeed, a failure. After all, a perfect person couldn’t fail twice in marriage, have had a couple of disastrous relationships in between, and have her family falling apart around her. I blamed myself for everything that went wrong, even if it resulted from other people’s choices.

When I was about to embark on my third marriage, my self-doubt bubbled to the surface and I almost called it off. Better to not try than to fail yet again, right?

Luckily, sanity prevailed, I went ahead with the wedding, and am still happily married nearly twelve years later. So what does all this have to do with giving ourselves permission to fail?

Simply put, when we don’t give ourselves permission to fail, we risk holding ourselves back. A fear of failure fosters a failure to act. If we fail to act, we won’t try something new. And if we don’t try something new, we stagnate.

The great boxer, Sugar Ray Leonard said, “if you never know failure, you will never know success.”

Mistakes, disappointments, failures: these all give us the opportunity for growth. Each mistake gives us an opportunity to learn something new. Each disappointment can lead to satisfaction. Each failure paves the way to a success. It all depends on our attitude to making mistakes, experiencing disappointment, and failing at a task.

Giving yourself permission to fail is giving yourself permission to strive, to push yourself beyond what you thought you were capable of into something better.

I’m reminded of the movie, Limitless, where a struggling writer takes a drug which unlocks his mental abilities and he becomes successful. That’s a very basic outline of the plot and ignores a lot of the unsavoury issues, but my point is that we don’t need a drug to unlock our unlimited potential. All we really need to do is give ourselves permission to fail. The old saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” is the secret.

You will fail. We all do. But failing isn’t the end of the world. It’s not the end of your career, your opportunities, your potential. It’s just the beginning of a journey, or perhaps another path to take on the journey you’re already on. You don’t need to be a perfectionist to succeed in life. You just have to be consistent, learn from your mistakes, and never give up.

So, do I have your permission to fail? You certainly have mine.

However, what’s more important to your own success (and to mine, ultimately) is that we personally give ourself permission to fail. Only then can our potential blossom, despite, or perhaps because of, the hardships and failures we have experienced.

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