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Building a Growth Mindset: Turning Adversity into Advantage

Failure. It’s a word that sends shivers down the spine of many, yet it's an inevitable part of life. But what if we reframe our perception of failure? What if we see it not as a dead end, but as a crucial step on the path to success? In this blog, we will explore how not to let the pain of failure lead to a fear of failure, and instead, use it as a powerful tool for growth.

The fear of failure often stems from a combination of societal pressures, personal expectations, and the amplified perceptions created by social media. In our hyper-connected world, the highlights of others’ successes are constantly on display, making our own struggles and setbacks seem magnified. This can lead to increased anxiety, fear, and loneliness as we compare our behind-the-scenes setbacks with another person's highlights. As feelings such as these persist, a person's motivation declines, and cause them to completely abandon their pursuits based on the following:

  1. Fear of Judgment: The fear of being judged by peers, family, or colleagues can keep us from taking chances with ideas or actions.

  2. Perfectionism: The desire to do things perfectly, or at least as good as or better than someone else, can make any mistake feel like a catastrophe.

  3. Past Experiences: Negative past experiences with failure can create a lingering fear that it will happen again. Much like a post-traumatic-stress-disorder, the anxiety of reliving can keep someone from exposing themself.

  4. Lack of Support: Without a strong support system, the burden of failure feels heavier and more isolating.

Overcoming the feeling of failure requires a change in mindset about what failure is. It starts with understanding that no learning is bad, and embracing the idea that success can be achieved from going through the process regardless of the outcome. Much like Alexander Fleming, a pharmacologist, who in the pursuit to find a cure for bacterial infections, discovered mold had contaminated one of his petri dishes. At first glance, he thought it was a failed experiment, however upon closer inspection, he discovered how it killed the surrounding bacteria. As with Mr. Fleming, let the process reveal the outcome, rather than always aiming for the pre-determined one.

Reflection is a powerful tool, and after a failing experience its a critical component to moving forward. Taking time to reflect on what went wrong, how you contributed to it (an honest assessment), and identifying where you could have changed the outcome will arm you with the learning needed to grow. It’s often through our greatest losses that we make our greatest leaps forward. As we allow our minds to celebrate failure as being one step closer to the outcome we're striving for, we become more motivated and eager to try again...the only way anything ever really happens is when we try.

No one who made a significant difference did so without experiencing failure along the way. For instance, Thomas Edison famously failed thousands of times before inventing the light bulb, and J.K. Rowling faced numerous rejections before Harry Potter became a global phenomenon. Similarly, Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team but went on to become one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Each of these people could not have been successful had they not shifted their mindset to focus on growth and learning. Having a shift in perspective can reduce the fear of failure and establish a mindset of resilience, confidence, and success. Ways to help make this shift include:

  1. Reframe Failure: Recognizing that "failure" simply identifies an option that didn't work, putting you one step closer to finding the one that will. [L.O.S.S: "Learning Opportunity Stepping Stone"]

  2. Build a Support System: Surround yourself with people who understand and support your journey. Share your failures and learnings with them, and let them share their failures and learnings with you. Learning from your colleagues and friends can be a powerful way of learning without having to experience it yourself.

  3. Celebrate Effort, Not Just Success: Recognize and celebrate the effort you put in, regardless of the outcome, you never know when the efforts for one endeavor may be the answer for another.

  4. Set Realistic Expectations: Understand that perfection is an illusion. Set achievable goals and be kind to yourself when things don’t go as planned.

  5. Stay Off the Comparison Train: Limit your exposure to social media if it leads to negative comparisons. Focus on your journey, not others', but where you find motivation in someone elses, connect with them and allow them to be a source of support.

Don’t let the fear of failure keep you from trying. Instead, fear being stagnant. Fear not growing, not evolving, and not becoming the best version of yourself. Failure is not the enemy. It is a teacher, a guide, and a stepping stone to success. By changing our mindset and embracing failure as a part of the journey, we can turn our pain into power. Simply put, leadership is about resilience and growth. Let’s embrace the journey, fail forward, and keep moving towards success.

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