Coaching Mastery: Embracing and Redefining What “Failure” Means

Redefine failure and begin to learn from our experiences as life coaches. Success can have a new definition, one that shows us how to live a fuller life.

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Today, we venture into a topic that seems to only have one definition: failure. 

It’s hard not to be negatively affected by the glorification of outward success that we see daily from social media, in the workplace or on television. (And as life coaches, many of our clients are struggling with the same feelings!) Our society, deeply rooted in capitalism, promotes the concept of achievement and hoarding resources as the only markers of success and worth. 

A toxic notion of individualism has become the status quo, convincing us that we should be able to do it all, have it all and be it all to succeed in the modern world. (Mia Birdsong discusses and rebuts these concepts beautifully in her work How We Show Up – highly recommended.) Failure to succeed at all costs is considered a weakness and a personal fault. This negative perception is not only damaging but misleading, painting a false picture of how personal growth happens and what life holds for all of us.

In our roles as life coaches, we understand the essential elements required for an individual to thrive: care, love, support, community, and partnership. Lumia’s community growth model embodies this understanding and it’s the cornerstone of all we do. 

So, how can we challenge the damaging belief that failures and mistakes define us? Holding too tightly to the outward definitions of success actually robs us of the gifts of “failure” – that every “failure” is just information and each time we “fail” we’ve learned some valuable lessons. 

In order to redefine failure, we must also redefine “success.” 

Rather than equating success with material accumulation, we are best served by expanding our scope. Life gets much richer when we consider success as a state of flourishing, thriving, and finding contentment in various aspects of life.

So what might that look like in practice?

  • Success is healthy relationships
  • Success is a sound mental state and a positive relationship with emotion
  • Success is a healthy body
  • Success is knowing and using our authentic strengths
  • Success is being attached to causes, passions, or beliefs that transcend the individual 

Our lives are intricate tapestries woven from many different experiences. Failures, pain, and mistakes are important pieces of that tapestry, and essential to a whole and complete view of our life’s journey. 

Failure, pain and mistakes don’t dictate our worth; they are an intrinsic part of our human experience. They provide critical insights guiding our path. Reflecting on and learning from these experiences is a hefty component of the coaching process, enabling our clients to build resilience and achieve goals long term. 

It’s time to do away with the old concept and introduce the perspective that failure is merely a specific, new set of data points. Everything is an opportunity to learn! 

To understand this, let's examine three types of failure:

1. Tactical Failure:

These are errors concerning HOW we do something. The goal might be sound, but the approach might need reevaluation. The failure could lie in the systems, measures, or language used to achieve a simple goal.

2. Strategic Failure:

These failures concern WHAT the plan is. You may have clarity on WHY and HOW but may stumble on the road from Point A to Point B. Persistence is key here, as sometimes it takes several attempts to devise the perfect plan.

3. Vision Failure:

These failures involve the WHY behind our actions. This type of failure usually occurs due to three reasons:

  • Pursuing a goal set by someone else, often known as extrinsic goals.
  • Improperly set goals, which are either not broken down into small enough steps or too hazy to be attainable.
  • Inability to adapt to a changing environment or new learning related to the goal.

Let's shift our perspective, and look at failure not as something that defines us, but as a series of experiences providing valuable lessons. 

Taking the sting out of it can help turn the tides from despair to evaluation, shifting the focus from personal worth to how complex our human experience is, always.

After all, being human is about making our way through many different stages of our journey and yes – that includes the occasional bitter taste of failure, which often makes the sweetness of success that much more satisfying.

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