Failing forward into your courage zone (balls deep)
It’s a lovely summer day and I’m off to meet a friend for lunch to celebrate his promotion. I come out of the tube station to the usual hustle and bustle of the city—tourists on tour walks, and city workers rushing around while eating and texting on their phones while navigating traffic—a real sight to behold as they risk their lives in the rat race of city life. I’m not sure it’s worth it to risk being hit by a bus because you were busy eating Pret sandwiches and responding to a WhatsApp group chat. C’mon people, please pay attention: life is too precious; put your phones away.
I meet up with my friend and he’s in work mode and can’t decide whether he wants to eat or not. We finally end up ordering some food but no alcohol as he has a big meeting later that afternoon and apparently, slurring his words during the meeting wouldn’t be cool. So we toast to his promotion with sparkling water and ginger ale. The conversation moves on to talking about family life and my new practice as a mental skills coach, which leads us down the road of discussing stress and pressure and performance anxiety. He starts to reveal to me between bites of his lunch that he feels as if he is failing at everything. I’m shocked to hear this and adjust my seating, leaning in to try to understand why my friend is telling me he feels like a failure in the middle of us celebrating his promotion. He continues talking between mouthfuls of his lunch, “I feel I’m failing at work because I can’t spend enough time there and have to rush back to make the one hour and a half trip home to see the three kids before they fall asleep.” Even then, he barely gets in any time with them, and this is another thing he views as failing. After finishing work that he put off earlier to rush home, he is too pooped to spend quality time with his wife and indicates this is impacting his relationship—yet another thing to add to the failing list. He caps his evening with a little bit of free-time for himself, but is too tired to do anything constructive and ends up drinking to pass the time. We both laugh at this point in the conversation but there is an awkward pause as I try to confirm whether he is joking. He gives me a wry smile and takes a swig of his sparkling water.
After we head our separate ways, all I could think was ‘Wow.’ He had shared insights into fatherhood. I woke up this morning remembering the feeling and realizing that, as an expectant first time father, I would need to get used to failing. Basically, getting my ass handed to me on a regular basis. As I reflect on the type of dad I want to be, the type of husband, and all the things I want to achieve in my business, I realize the expectations and targets are huge, my to-do list keeps growing every day. How will I ever achieve all of this?!
I remember my wife scolding my brother-in-law for letting our nephew watch too much TV. After subsequently babysitting our nephew a few times, she no longer opens her mouth. Our nephew watches TV with us. As we prepare to receive our new child, it has made me realize that kids have more energy than you, they are smarter than you and they will always win, so give them TV when you need to. At least a little bit to maintain your sanity.
So I’ve made a pact with myself: I’m going to fail, and probably often. I just need to make sure I keep learning the lessons and moving forward. Not trying and not pushing forward is a sad waste of the precious gift of life. I plan to fail forward into my courage zone. Failing forward for me means pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and into your courage zone. Taking action to live by your values and when you fail, accepting it and owning it. Make sure you learn the lesson and push forward. If it’s good enough for Denzel Washington, who famously encouraged a class of university graduates to “fail forward,” it’s good enough for me.