Embracing The Fall: How To Be OK With And Grow From Failure

Post written by

Sara Johnson

CEO of Mision 22, leading the charge to end veteran suicide in America.

Fear of failure is something no one likes and not many will admit to feeling. It can hold you back and keep you small, not allowing you to grow.

I used to avoid failure at all costs -- to the point of not pushing my limits. Then, a day came when I stepped back and saw what I was doing and realized that I was my biggest obstacle to growth. The only way to get back at it was to face it head-on. I found that these lessons apply just as much to business as they do in everyday situations. So, here’s how I harnessed that fear and used it to succeed.

Embrace The Fall 

While I had been rock climbing for many years, I wasn’t a great climber. I had hit a limit that I just couldn’t get past. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was afraid to fall -- so afraid that I never pushed myself. There was one particular climb where every time I got to the crux (the hardest part), I stopped climbing. I watched my husband climb it and tried it the same way with no success. I tried those same moves over and over, but I could never reach the next hold.

At this point in the climb, if I were to quit, it would be a shortfall. I knew I wouldn’t get hurt. However, if I committed and continued climbing, I knew I would fall much farther and swing out past an overhang. I was so afraid of that big fall that I held myself back. I had to embrace it, accept that I might fall and trust my gear and the work I had already put into this.

When we returned, I was determined to get past the crux of that climb. I decided that the second I felt afraid, I was going to fall on purpose. I was going to fall over and over again until I was not afraid to fall anymore. I was committed to succeeding by committing to fail if needed.

Lesson Learned: How many times do we do this to ourselves in business? Creating our own failure by being afraid of failure in itself? You fail either way with that mindset. Trust in yourself and the work you have already put into your business. If you are not willing to try, you will always fall short.

Stop Negative Self-Talk

As I climbed up the wall, I felt that familiar fear set in. This is usually when the negative self-talk would start. “You are not strong enough, tall enough, brave enough. Falling will be unsafe. You could get hurt.” But this day was different. I was afraid, but I changed the way I talked to myself. “Trust the rope; you know it can hold your weight. You may fall, but you will not hit anything on the way down. This is an overhang, and you will swing out safely.”

I was getting closer to that move. I tried it the same way as before. I felt the fear set in, only this time, I let go. I fell, and I was fine.

Lesson Learned: If you talk to yourself negatively as a leader, you are putting a wall in front of yourself. This limits not only you, but your business as well. Set yourself and your company up for success, not failure. Your words matter.

Look For A New Way

On the seventh or eighth fall, I began to see the climb differently. I saw a way to go that I hadn’t tried before. It would leave me a bit exposed, and if I fell, I would swing even farther. But I could see that I could do it. This way had been there the entire time, but my fear had blinded me to what was right in front of me.

As I climbed back up, I was OK with falling because I knew I was going to give it all I had. I reached around a bulge sticking out and found a great hold. I fully committed and moved.

I had made it, and was so elated that I had pushed through to a totally new level of climbing for myself. Suddenly, I was climbing levels above what I did before. I was a better climber than I tried to be; I'd just never given myself the chance. By forcing myself to face that fear, I was able to not only succeed but far surpass what I could have hoped for.

Lesson Learned: Look for new solutions and ways to accomplish your goals as well as your company’s goals. By staying open-minded, you will be more apt to see the path to success.

You can apply these same principles to business. Fail, fail, then fail again. Never stop trying. Each time you do, you’ll grow as a person and as a leader.

No one likes failing, but by removing the lens of fear, you’ll be able to open your eyes and really see the road and way to success. I have come to appreciate the growth that comes from failure, and I meet it head-on. I look at every obstacle from multiple directions, and if one thing doesn’t work, I fully commit myself to try another. I am a better leader when I am willing to take risks so the company and our team can grow.

Forbes Nonprofit Council is an invitation-only organization for chief executives in successful nonprofit organizations. Do I qualify?
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Fear of failure is something no one likes and not many will admit to feeling. It can hold you back and keep you small, not allowing you to grow.

I used to avoid failure at all costs -- to the point of not pushing my limits. Then, a day came when I stepped back and saw what I was doing and realized that I was my biggest obstacle to growth. The only way to get back at it was to face it head-on. I found that these lessons apply just as much to business as they do in everyday situations. So, here’s how I harnessed that fear and used it to succeed.

Embrace The Fall 

While I had been rock climbing for many years, I wasn’t a great climber. I had hit a limit that I just couldn’t get past. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was afraid to fall -- so afraid that I never pushed myself. There was one particular climb where every time I got to the crux (the hardest part), I stopped climbing. I watched my husband climb it and tried it the same way with no success. I tried those same moves over and over, but I could never reach the next hold.

At this point in the climb, if I were to quit, it would be a shortfall. I knew I wouldn’t get hurt. However, if I committed and continued climbing, I knew I would fall much farther and swing out past an overhang. I was so afraid of that big fall that I held myself back. I had to embrace it, accept that I might fall and trust my gear and the work I had already put into this.

When we returned, I was determined to get past the crux of that climb. I decided that the second I felt afraid, I was going to fall on purpose. I was going to fall over and over again until I was not afraid to fall anymore. I was committed to succeeding by committing to fail if needed.

Lesson Learned: How many times do we do this to ourselves in business? Creating our own failure by being afraid of failure in itself? You fail either way with that mindset. Trust in yourself and the work you have already put into your business. If you are not willing to try, you will always fall short.

Stop Negative Self-Talk

As I climbed up the wall, I felt that familiar fear set in. This is usually when the negative self-talk would start. “You are not strong enough, tall enough, brave enough. Falling will be unsafe. You could get hurt.” But this day was different. I was afraid, but I changed the way I talked to myself. “Trust the rope; you know it can hold your weight. You may fall, but you will not hit anything on the way down. This is an overhang, and you will swing out safely.”

I was getting closer to that move. I tried it the same way as before. I felt the fear set in, only this time, I let go. I fell, and I was fine.

Lesson Learned: If you talk to yourself negatively as a leader, you are putting a wall in front of yourself. This limits not only you, but your business as well. Set yourself and your company up for success, not failure. Your words matter.

Look For A New Way

On the seventh or eighth fall, I began to see the climb differently. I saw a way to go that I hadn’t tried before. It would leave me a bit exposed, and if I fell, I would swing even farther. But I could see that I could do it. This way had been there the entire time, but my fear had blinded me to what was right in front of me.

As I climbed back up, I was OK with falling because I knew I was going to give it all I had. I reached around a bulge sticking out and found a great hold. I fully committed and moved.

I had made it, and was so elated that I had pushed through to a totally new level of climbing for myself. Suddenly, I was climbing levels above what I did before. I was a better climber than I tried to be; I'd just never given myself the chance. By forcing myself to face that fear, I was able to not only succeed but far surpass what I could have hoped for.

Lesson Learned: Look for new solutions and ways to accomplish your goals as well as your company’s goals. By staying open-minded, you will be more apt to see the path to success.

You can apply these same principles to business. Fail, fail, then fail again. Never stop trying. Each time you do, you’ll grow as a person and as a leader.

No one likes failing, but by removing the lens of fear, you’ll be able to open your eyes and really see the road and way to success. I have come to appreciate the growth that comes from failure, and I meet it head-on. I look at every obstacle from multiple directions, and if one thing doesn’t work, I fully commit myself to try another. I am a better leader when I am willing to take risks so the company and our team can grow.

Forbes Nonprofit Council is an invitation-only organization for chief executives in successful nonprofit organizations. Do I qualify?

CEO of Mision 22, leading the charge to end veteran suicide in America.