When I was a young professional, I had a fear of failure. It was part of my identity. "People like me don't fail" was the self-talk I would give myself. Just the thought of it created anxiety that prompted me to work hard and fast. I wouldn't cut corners to get there. Cutting a corner meant that I lost. And I can't lose. "Never, Ever, Ever, Ever, Ever, Ever Give Up!" as quoted by Winston Churchill was my mantra. Can't stop, won't stop. Figuratively, I was the person who couldn't swim but knew that if I just kept my legs and arms moving, and I paddled towards the beach, eventually I would get there. It seems like a really good principle...until you are in a riptide.
A rip current (aka riptide) is a strong current of water that pulls you out to the ocean. They can happen quite suddenly and can be very narrow (as small as 30 feet wide). Getting caught in one can be very violent and disorienting to the swimmer in it. In the state of Florida, approximately 150 people die from getting caught in a rip current each year. This is more deaths than thunderstorms, hurricanes, and tornados combined.
When we get pulled out to sea from a tide we can swim towards land and with the waves aiding us, we can make it safely. Swimming against a rip current is how most of the fatalities occur. The current is to powerful and the swimmer exhausts themselves to the point where they drown. During a riptide, swim parallel along the line of the beach, and if you can't escape, allow the rip current to take you out.
Rip currents happen else where in our lives. Its a place of high stakes, where our previous tactics that made us successful fail, and we either quickly adapt, or learn that failure is eminent. These are our most painful lessons. The ones we weren't equipped to manage.
Wisdom is knowledge gained from experience. Failure teaches us significantly more than success ever does. It's why when our favorite NFL team is coming to the end of the season with a 13-0 record that we get worried. That team hasn't learned the big lesson that will sustain it to the Super Bowl. We know this. We want the perfect season, but we would rather win the big game.
I'm a really slow learner. Or maybe I just had that deep of anxiety to fail. My programming said to keep paddling. The numerous rip tides in my life taught me how deep true exhaustion can take you. I would stress and worry until my heart literally ached. There was a time where my heart had literally throbbed for two weeks straight. All because I wouldn't allow myself to fail, and I insisted on swimming against the current.
Failing has consistently taught me more than success ever has. In fact when I pass on information, the most valuable nuggets aren't usually from the successes. Its from where I really messed up.
When you lead, sometimes you choose a loss over a bailout. Because failure is the ultimate teacher. Sometimes when you are leading, you see the punch coming from a mile away. You can warn your team. But ultimately you need to teach them to see the punches coming themselves. Sometimes you have to allow that punch to land in order to raise your teams defense. Leadership is when the punch lands, maximizing how much your team learns from it.
Don't be afraid of failure. Being afraid of failure is being afraid of wisdom. When failure is eminent, posture yourself to learn the absolute most from it. Its an opportunity that is often missed. Because after all, the team needs to learn how to swim.