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Epic, epic failure

Emma Grey

“I don’t want to look back and see all the wasted chances I didn’t take and the time I lost because something might not work out. I want to be proud of how much I attempted, how many times I scrambled back up and how often I threw caution to the wind.”

My five-year-old son’s first Kindy report came home a few weeks ago. “Can be very defiant,” it read. “Particularly if he thinks he won’t be able to do something perfectly.” Apparently he drew the bird’s body too small on the piece of paper in Art, so he fell into a heap on the floor in the foetal position and wouldn’t participate. And he does that often.

How very five.

Or is it? Don’t we, as adults, act defiantly sometimes in the face of failure too? Perhaps we’re not on the floor in the foetal position (or perhaps we are). But by not attempting, starting or finishing things, aren’t we really stamping our feet and saying, “NO, Not doing it! I don’t want to get this wrong in front of you all, and if I withdraw from that risk entirely, I’ll stay safe from that embarrassment.”

I read something in an article by Kim Liao recently that had a profound impact on me. It was for writers, but the advice applies to our entire lives:

“Collect rejections. Set rejection goals. I know someone who shoots for one hundred rejections in a year, because if you work that hard to get so many rejections, you’re sure to get a few acceptances, too.”

Rejection goals. What a liberating, life-expanding concept …

There’s a great short video on failure from Sara Blakely, billionaire founder and CEO of Spanx. Growing up, her father would ask the kids at the dinner table what they’d failed at that day. He’d be disappointed if she didn’t have something to say, because that would mean she hadn’t been trying. It reminds me of JK Rowling’s advice: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

All of this got me thinking…

What if we all headed into this week, DETERMINED TO FAIL AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. How would that look, that is different from last week?

Would we:

  • Smile at even more strangers, despite the risk they wouldn’t smile back
  • Move our bodies more, even if we felt frumpy or uncoordinated in front of people
  • Audition for the local theatre group, even if we didn’t get the part
  • Ask someone out on a date, even if the answer could be ‘no’
  • Apply for a promotion, even if it’s a stretch
  • Submit a story we’ve written, despite chances being against us
  • Make some art, even if we haven’t done anything like that since primary school

Those are random ideas, and they may not even appeal to you, but we’d each make our own list of the things we WOULD want to do, if we dropped our defiant refusal to risk, and flipped the meaning of failure so that the only true fail was not giving things a go.

But here’s the exciting bit. Imagine multiplying the results of an approach like that over the course of a month, or six months, or a year, or a lifetime. Imagine 100 rejections. Two hundred. Can you see the shape and size and reach or your life transforming even as you think about the consequences of failing as much as possible?

One day, I don’t want to look back and see all the wasted chances I didn’t take and the time I lost because something might not work out. I want to be proud of how much I attempted, how many times I scrambled back up and how often I threw caution to the wind.

So who’s in? Who will join me for an EPIC WEEK OF FAILURE, starting today?

Let me know how you go!

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Emma Grey

Emma Grey is the Canberra-based author of ‘Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum’ and ‘Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band’. She’s director of the life-balance consultancy, WorkLifeBliss and co-founder of a fresh approach to time-management, My 15 Minutes. She lives just over the ACT border with her two teen daughters and young son. More about the Author

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