Three Ways To Deal With Personal Failure

In this episode, we’re exploring how to help coaching clients learn from failures and setbacks, and why it’s important to define new measures of success.

The Everything Life Coaching Podcast, featuring Lumia Coaching founders John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux, is a deep dive into the experience and business of being a life coach. Subscribe to get new episodes weekly!

Coaching Others Through Failure and Reframing What It Means To Succeed

In this episode, we’re digging into a topic that can feel a little bit taboo: FAILURE.

In a society that’s built on capitalism, most of us are swimming in a cultural narrative that promotes the ideas of achievement and accumulation as a measure of success and worth.

Implicit in this is the idea of toxic individualism, which has conditioned many of us to believe that we all must pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and become successful according to very narrow standards of success. If we don’t, we are doing it wrong AND there is something wrong with us. (How We Show Up, Mia Birdsong)

This idea - when internalized - is not only harmful, but gives us a very inaccurate picture of the way that change and growth actually occurs.

When we look at the definition of "failure" from an intersectional lens, it's important to "Ask the other questions."

  • Who's definition of "success" are we using?
  • Where does it come from?
  • Who does it serve?
  • Who does it harm?

Another Way to Approach “Success”

In contrast to the dominant culture’s definition of success, renowned positive psychology researcher Kate Hefferon offers a simple and elegant framework to evaluate and cultivate a life based on flourishing - one that is both sustained and sustainable. 

What Heffernon proposes is that we recalibrate our sense of what happiness entails, and strike an equal balance between these 3 elements: 

  • Achievement
  • Contentment
  • Hedonic (pleasure)

In western (specifically American) society, most of us spend the majority of our lives chasing achievement. When we put all of our eggs in just this one basket, we fall out of balance.

As guiding principles, “flourishing, thriving and contentment” is different than the capitalist idea of success because it incorporates:

  • Healthy relationships
  • Healthy mental state - and healthy relationship with emotion
  • Healthy body
  • Authentic strengths
  • Attachment to causes/passion/spiritual outlook that is greater than you and creates harmony with all life

As coaches, we know that every individual requires care, love, support, community and partnership to reach goals - which is why Lumia is built on a community growth model. The idea that failures and mistakes define us gives us a really faulty data set around how useful failure can be to establish true flourishing and contentment in life.

How To Learn From Failure

Our lives are composed of many small wins and experiences that produce a complex tapestry of textures and colors. Failure, pain, mistakes, and learning are a very real, natural part of that weave.  

Mistakes and failures do not define our value or worth - rather they are PART of being human. These experiences give us very important information about who we are and what we want to do over the journey of our lifetime.

Investigating “failure” is also a valuable aspect of coaching.

Evaluating, reflecting on, and solidifying learning is critical to the coaching process. Long term goal accomplishment could not happen without self-awareness.

Let’s break down a few different types of failure to poke holes in the idea that failure is an indication of value. (Source: 3 Stages of Failure in Life and Work and How to Fix Them, James Clear, Medium

1. When Tactics Fail

Tactics are all about HOW we do something. Sometimes the idea or goal is perfectly valid, but the way we set out to do it could use a reset.

Think about systems, measurement, language - all of the things that can apply to even the simplest goal. 

Example: You wanted to run a marathon but didn’t have the language to tell the shoe guy what you needed, so ended up with clunky hiking boots instead of running shoes. This is a tactical error - and can be recovered from!

2. Strategy Misalignment

This is a failure of WHAT the plan is. You may know WHY you want to do something and you may know HOW to do something, but your strategy to get from point A to point B could just need tweaking and revisiting.  Sometimes it takes multiple tries to figure out how to scale to a new height.  

We can learn so much about this by watching little kids play. They don’t yet have shame attached to their missteps, and try to do things all sorts of different ways before getting to the desired goal.

For children, “figuring it out” can be a joyful and triumphant process. As we move into adulthood, ego and shame come into the picture which can disconnect us from the fun that arises from problem solving and trying new things.

3. Failure of Vision

These are failures of our WHY, or when we’re lacking in clarity. In coaching we see this happen often, and for three primary reasons:

  • The client is trying to accomplish a goal that someone else wants for them. This is called an extrinsic goal, and those are notoriously difficult to accomplish.
  • We have not evaluated the goal to see if it was set properly. The International Coaching Federation (ICF) favors SMART as a method for setting goals. This process invites us to consider if a goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.
  • An unwillingness to experiment. A lack of flexibility to adapt to a shifting environment and take in new learnings can be detrimental to goal attainment.  

When we take a broader perspective and consider failure as a series of experiences that can give us really important information, it helps us turn the dial from despair to evaluation! This in turn helps us to iterate and evolve, bringing us into greater alignment with the most important objective of coaching: learning how to thrive and flourish in life. 

Want to Become a Coach?

One of our values at Lumia is that we dare to be different. Our coaches support people in learning from their experiences, and living from their own truth. If you are ready to step into your power as a coach, come check out Lumia Life Coach Training. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, and business instruction to prepare you for liftoff.

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