Friday, August 23, 2019

Learning from failure is one thing, but how do I handle myself when i am experiencing failure ?

"Learning from failure is one thing, but how do I handle myself when i am experiencing failure ?"
This was one of the questions put forward by one of the curious participants at the career stories panel discussion yesterday. I believe it is a very practical question as we are all used to doing retrospectives and extracting learnings from a failure event but often tend to ignore the aspect of handling ourselves when the failure is happening.

Just providing a couple of perspectives (including the one i shared during the session + result of some additional thinking I did on the topic).

#1. Build a defense mechanism against the effects of failure:
Failure will happen when we try something new. This is almost as certain as sunset happening after sunrise. There's absolutely no debate here.

But what happens when we encounter a failure ? Failures tend to demoralize us, put us on the backfoot, make us lose self-belief a bit, shakes our self-confidence and possibly impacts our credibility. Most of these after-effects of failure happen when we allow it is effect the core of what makes us, our personality, our thinking process. And when we allow failure to cross that limit, it can have a damaging effect on our convictions and confidence.

The idea behind building a defense mechanism is to protect our core from the effects of the failure. How do we do that ?

Here is a story i shared during the session (inferring from my previous learning):

During a recent Test cricket series with Australia, Pakistan's Shahid Afridi was faced with barrage of lightning fast bouncer deliveries in an over from Mitchell Johnson. One after the other, he was faced with balls that just whizz past his head, ears, nose etc. and he was all clueless about what was happening. After few such balls, in an unusual gesture, he took off his helmet and just laughed out loudly with mouth wide open (without worrying about millions who were seeing him) to calm his nerves. The lesser mortals who have succumbed to pressure but here was a rather unorthodox action to deal with adversities. What better way than to just laugh off the problems and face what coming next.

Afridi's defense mechanism was laughing the worry (caused by failure) off. 
What is your mechanism ?

Like human beings, defense mechanisms aren't one-size-fits all things. What may work for Afridi may not work for you ? In the panel talk, my fellow panelist shared that he likes to mediate to bring the equanimity needed to deal with failure. I draw strength from my experiences from my running a marathon (covered a bit more in the next point).

#2. Change the frame of reference:
Rather than me keying in words to explain this point, let me share this tweet from Vala Afshar, that I always keep handy. The message in it is profound and the way it is expressed nothing but touching.

We are so consumed with our own worlds that the problems that we face tend to be the tougher than what anybody else might be facing. Just changing the frame of reference to world around us is enough to make us realize that we are among the privileged few and many people would anyday be willing to trade their problem with ours.

I had recently started reading Meb Keflezighi's book "26 Marathons What I Learned About Faith, Identity, Running and Life from My Marathon Career.

In this book, Meb narrates the learnings from each of his 26 professional marathons. His first one was New York City marathon in 2002. In this event, he came 9th with the timing of 2:12:35. Given that he
was a professional runner who had just migrated to full marathon from shorter distances, he was mighty upset with his performance and with the mistakes he made. He had almost made up his mind to not participate in any of future full marathons. He was heart-broken with this result, which he perceived as a failure.A couple of weeks after his first marathon, he went to his native country Eritrea (in Africa) where he grew up. He observed how hard the daily life was for most people there. Struggles to get water from wells miles away, searching for wood to build fires for cooking and much more. He goes on to say- 

"It's not that I'd forgotten these things from my childhood. But seeing them so soon after running my first marathon in one of the world's greatest cities was striking. People in Eritrea live like this, day in and day out, just to survive, I told myself. I thought about what I'd experienced in my marathon. That was a temporary discomfort, I realized, not permanent pain. Also, I told myself, I had a choice- nobody put a gun on my head and said, "You have to run a marathon or finish it." The people I saw in Eritrea had no choice in how they spent their days. So yes, I'd been miserable for maybe 40 minutes in my debut marathon, but I had no room to complain."
Post this, he won a silver medal in 2004 Olympics in the marathon, won the 2009 New York City Marathon and the 2014 Boston Marathon confirming his place as the legends of the sport. But the moot point is, he got the timely wisdom to change the frame of reference with which he was seeing his failure and that helped him deal with the failure.

What are your tactics of dealing with the failure ? Please share in comments, would love to hear them.

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