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Five Steps to Turn Failure into Growth

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” - Robert F. Kennedy

We read motivational books, we see meme’s on social media, we hear what great leaders say about failure, they all tell us that failure is a step on the journey to success. They remind us that it is our willingness to fall down, brush off the dirt, look around for the lessons, and keep going that makes or breaks our success. But the cold hard truth is that this process hurts, it’s hard, and our path is littered with grief.

I woke this morning with a heavy heart. Failure was the topic of my personal coaching session yesterday and the feelings lingered. The doubts felt like a dark cloud over my head, causing me to question the choices that I’ve made and the sacrifices along the way. So, as I sat to meditate this morning, I decided to lean into the grief. What came out of the process was a deep sense of gratitude, so here is what I did to get there:

  1. Write a list of all your perceived failures. Write the jobs you’ve lost or left in disharmony, the trigger moments that sent you into a tailspin and caused you to react in ways you regret, the relationships that challenged you and you dislike how you handled them, the decisions you made that you regret. Whatever you see as failures, write them down.

  2. Now, review the list. Sit with the discomfort and the feelings that arise as you look at each moment.

  3. Breathe. Take a few minutes to practice a simple even-count breathing exercise that brings you into an emotionally congruent state. Inhale for four to six counts and exhale for an equal amount of counts. Give yourself at least 5 rounds of this even-count breathing exercise.

  4. Next, make a list of the personal quality that you needed, but didn't have enough of, in each failure. Words like integrity, honesty, focus, kindness, mindfulness, forgiveness, boundaries come to mind for me. What was that event trying to teach you? Focus not on the details of the event, but on the qualities within yourself that you wish you had more of to face the challenge and achieve a different outcome. This can be hard. We often want to justify our failures as someone else's fault. Resist that urge. Release the story of what happened and take responsibility for how you showed up in the event only. This is brave and humbling.

  5. Finally, take a look at what you’ve written. See how the qualities needed to overcome the challenges you have faced are the areas in yourself that you most need to address. Or, you may find that these are the areas you are making the most progress on.

The one question left to ask yourself is this, “am I committed to growing in these areas?” If you have yet to make that commitment, this is your invitation. If you are already on the path of growth in these areas, know that you are on track, keep going. If you are frustrated by lack of progress, it’s time to try something new.

This is the work of a powerful growth mindset. When we make the effort to learn from our mistakes we are halfway to understanding what we are really here to do in life. The other half is to see our gifts and learn to live them more fully into the world. The combination of the two, our growth edge and our gifts, is the key to living on purpose and loving your life.

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