Failing to Fail is Our Greatest Risk

Anguish. By Porsche Brosseau
Anguish. Photo courtesy of Porsche Brosseau.

Failure is often imposed upon us, in settings where we didn’t get a fair chance to perform well.  It’s an incorrect word that we cling to when gripped by self-doubt.  Often this failure spurs an adaptability which sets us up for long-term success.  This means that failure is a word that we must take back and own, mid-process during growth.  There are not winners and losers any more, just those who adapt and those who do not.

Adaptability is the new smart.

Every now and then a good consulting firm offers some exceptional free material online.  Today’s find is Academic Impressions from Boulder, Colorado.  Academic Impressions prides themselves on providing “high quality learning opportunities for academic and administrative leaders in higher education.”

The article that caught my attention, Preparing Students to Lose Their Jobs, encourages postsecondary institutions to prepare students to get their next job, then lose that job, then move on to the next one.  The article calls on robust sources to interpret that “The future of work is adapting to change, failure as a norm, and …a longer career arc in which to experience many different and uniquely distinct careers.”  They also endorse the emerging opinion that technology and globalization will rationalize routine efforts, obliging all (employed) humans to focus on empathy.

Theirs is an opinion that adaptability to change will be the core attribute of successful and well-educated adults.  Therefore, learning to be adaptable must be a top priority.  Adaptability requires a variety of attributes that are agnostic to IQ and “the acquisition of predetermined skills”, the old hallmarks of a solid bricks-and-mortar education.

Adapting to Change Via Professional Development and Workforce Analytics

The new attributes required for workplace success are:

  • An agile mindset which relies on empathy, divergent thinking, and an entrepreneurial outlook.
  • Having the social and emotional intelligence “to adapt and thrive in a world that is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.” Their critique mirrors Elif Shafak’s TED talk on embracing complexity which also became public in September 2017.
  • Improving the speed at which we try, fail, adapt, and grow upward into the next level of challenge. External factors that drive us to failure or obsolescence will become more common, so avoidance of this change will not help.  Rather, we must learn our way into the next opportunity.  New opportunities abound, so get to them promptly… by moving on.
  • Developing a personal history of having changed context and perspective, either from a change of country as an immigrant, a shift in personal identity, or having adapted to some kind of “failure.” These shifts do not have to be shameful.  They can an important part of a meaningful story that makes us whole.
  • Our negative internal voice – the one that tells us the failure we are experiencing is because we are lacking in some shameful way – needs to be regulated, mitigated and subdued by self-reflection, meditation, and connecting our opinions to concrete evidence.

That last item is music to my ears.  On one hand, we need a general positive attitude and healthy self-image.  On the other hand, a little bit of good data can nourish us and help us overcome ill-conceived notions about our worth.  Logic and emotion come together to make the ultimate hot-and-sour soup, like a comfort food in times of change.  You need to seek new information, let it soak in, and talk yourself through it.  Then product-test your new self image with your friends, to make sure it rings true.  And, no punchline, just go!

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