“Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” Winston Churchill
On December 11, I returned to Melbourne after 10 weeks on The Purpose Project 100,000 Impacts Tour. As I alighted from the plane, a crippling sense of defeat and failure descended upon me. I’d only achieved 40,018 impacts, way less than half my goal. I simply couldn’t wait to get home to retreat from my highly public pilgrimage to lick my wounds.
For three days and nights I rolled around in the dirt of my disappointment. I asked myself some serious questions and journaled intensively about it. What exactly did I fail at? Why did I fail? Had I set myself up for failure before I even started? What could I have done differently to avoid failure? And finally, what are the lessons learnt from this failure?
I gave myself the grace and space to fully feel my feelings. I didn’t attempt to block them, avoid them or distract myself from them. I didn’t resort to diversion tactics like counting my blessings in a gratitude journal or keeping myself busy on other projects. And I didn’t jump into immediate remedial action to set new plans and targets.
I just sat in the muck of it all. I surrendered to the feelings and accepted them. I allowed them to fully permeate me, to let the dirt of disappointment sink in for a while.
Then gradually, on day four, things started to shift of their own accord. Out of the ashes of disappointment I began to feel a sense of resurrection as I wrote about all the things I’d actually succeeded at – the old friends I’d spent time with, the hundreds of new friends I’d made at Deep Dinners and other events I’d attended and spoken at, the cities I’d explored and the opportunities that had opened up for the potential of work in 2018.
At one point, I even took a dose of my own medicine and re-read the practices in The Purpose Project around Re-learning and Redefining Success. I started to reframe the whole experience and think of it as an experiment. I started to consider that perhaps I hadn’t failed after all, acknowledging that I’d still actually achieved 40, 018 Impacts. How could that be a failure even if I didn’t achieve my target of 100,000?
I’ve come to believe that failure actually brings with it many gifts, in fact more gifts than success. Here are the 10 gifts of failure:
- Taking a risk may result in failure. Taking no risk at all however, still results in failure.
- Having feelings that you’ve failed at something is different to feeling like a failure. The first will pass, the second runs deep and is about self-worth.
- It’s okay to feel you’ve failed at something and roll in the muck of it. The best way out is through, to feel it fully and let it pass naturally.
- When we fail at something, it builds our capacity for perseverance and resilience and it tests our commitment to our cause or purpose.
- It’s more important to know what you want to achieve and why than it is to know the how. Failure most often comes from uncompromising attachment to the how (and the numbers).
- It doesn’t mean you’ve failed if you don’t reach your targets. It just means you didn’t reach your target. (However, it is a sign that it might be time to reconsider how you measure success or to change your tactics.)
- Feelings of failure need to stay with you as long as you need to learn the lesson. Processing the lessons and affecting change as a result, is more important than the failure itself.
- We can be less worried about failing when we think of our project as a ‘learn-by-doing’ experiment and as a way to test and prototype rather than as a ‘do-or-die’ experience.
- Failure is subjective. We must keep it real and keep it in perspective. What you see as failure may actually be considered success to others.
- We must very carefully define what constitutes success and failure on our own terms instead of conforming to the common measures of success and failure which are usually measured in monetary and material terms.
I still have many of the actual highlights and lowlights of the tour to reflect on and report on, but for now, three weeks after returning home at the end of 2017, I’m already beginning to feel the stirrings of a new adventure emerging for 2018.
To all the people that have supported me during this tour, I thank you so very much! It wouldn’t have been possible without you sharing the purpose love. I hope this post has helped you check in on where you feel you might have failed this year so that you can see the gift in it and realise you’re totally amazing anyway!
PS It’s not too late to help me achieve more impacts by purchasing The Purpose Project.