It’s widely recognized that most people hate to fail. People, maybe yourself included, hate failing to such an extent that they give up trying—after all, if you don’t try, you cannot fail, and if you don’t fail, you don’t have to deal with the negative emotions connected to failure. In the end you end up in your own dark corner of the world, but at least you haven’t failed at anything. Does it have to be like this? What if I could give you an injection that would ensure that you’ll never suffer a catastrophic failure again? I bet you’re already rolling up your sleeve. Stay with me and I will tell you how to give yourself that very booster shot.
You’re up in front of the board, giving the presentation of your life, and you have everyone in the palm of your hand. Everything you say resonates with them, and you are in control. Suddenly somebody spills a glass of water and shouts out just as you are about to make THE statement. Your mind goes blank, you skip two slides without noticing it, nobody understands what you are saying and what was supposed to be your triumph ends in total failure.
You’re onstage for the first time, and you’re playing your heart out, putting every emotion you have into every note and they come out beautifully. Suddenly there is a sharp tone in everyone’s ears—the dreaded feedback. The sound guy does a good job of killing it and it dies out, but you have forgotten where you are in the song, so you freeze; no more tones come out. Your moment of glory turns to dust.
Have you experienced something like this?
The things that are present in both scenarios are quite common, but don’t always end in failure. Unexpected things don’t always happen or throw you off. The thing that went wrong in the two examples given is not that something unexpected or unpleasant happened, but that there was no preparation for it. You didn’t practice failing! Read that again, “practice failing”, aka failing with grace.
Isn’t failure what we are trying to avoid? Well, yes, but in order to avoid failure, we have to take the possibility of failure and unexpected events into account. You need to know what to do when something goes wrong! If you prepare in a vacuum you can only truly succeed in a vacuum.
With the first scenario, when you’re preparing a presentation, make sure you can start (or restart) it from any slide. Figure out answers to all difficult questions beforehand, and run through the presentation with the radio in the background so you know you can stay on track amid distractions Figure out what can go wrong and have a plan! That is failing with grace, because when turbulence strikes it will not seem like failure at all.
The second example could be handled this way: learn the song even more fluidly, practice starting it in the middle, and figure out a nice little phrase you can play as backup when you don’t know where you are. Place a friend in the audience who knows the song and can direct you if you get lost. Above all else, never stop playing! Nobody knows what you are about to play, so just act as is everything is happening exactly as you expected, and enjoy yourself.
Ultimately, failing with grace comes down to preparation, and the more often you practice this, the less often disaster will strike. On the off chance that it does, it will becomesa learning experience as well. I promise.
“The only real failure is the one from which we learn nothing.” ― Henry Ford
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is this: the next time you prepare for something—a presentation, a show or an interview—put these ideas into practice and prepare even more. Figure out what can go wrong beforehand, and make plans how to deal with each scenario.
What do you do to handle failures?