Failure? No..... it's progress

Updated: Aug 18, 2020

Thomas Schaefer, the Finance Minister of Germany’s Hesse state, committed suicide in March as he was reportedly concerned over the coronavirus pandemic, and how to deal with the economic fallout from the crisis. In May the boss of a tourism board in the UK has revealed that business owners in the hospitality sector are committing suicide due to the financial pressures they are facing because of the coronavirus crisis. Eleven per cent of small business owners are thinking of ending it all, overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic, while 78 per cent of SME owners have worse mental health, according to research from chartered accountants’ group ACCA and The Corporate Finance Network (CFN).

With more bad news of retrenchment reeling it this week, the situation is not going to get any better soon. It made me question, are we staring into the abyss of doom and gloom? That got me thinking as to why this happened. I tried to look beyond the obvious which is the loss of a business, higher expenditure, pressure to maintain that lifestyle etc were just manifestations of a problem that was simmering. Agreed, all those factors were contributing to that sad news, but the reality is that we are not taught how to handle failure.

As human beings, we are all driven to be successful. We have so many books, people and an entire machine working behind the scenes to help people succeed. Do not get me wrong we all need to be successful, but we also need to realise that we could also encounter epic failures. I cannot remember the last time when we appreciated and embraced failure with an open heart as we embrace success.

Every successful person says that failure was not an option. I have come across people who say that they cannot process failure. They have an unshakeable belief about their potential, and they have gone to win Olympic gold medals. Even when I look at their mental makeup they have acquired that belief because they have explored all possibilities of what could go wrong and have worked hard on it which then gave them the confidence in their capabilities later on in life.

When we talk about failure, our perception about that event or person changes instantly. As a society, we look at success and failure as two ends of the spectrum. We laud success and loathe failure. Reality is that they are two sides of the same coin. Our quest for reductionism and our desire to view thing in absolutes, has eventually led us to conclude that failure equals useless. We have forgotten that there is a lesson to be learnt when we fail.

So why can't we have an approach that teaches us how to handle failure? If we can invest a lot of time to learn and do things which can help us succeed, why can't we learn about failure?

Some people would argue that as a society we all want to succeed. Nobody wants to fail and there seems to be a lot of stigma associated with it. The lock-down has shown that success and failure are nothing more than a blip in our lives. It has got many people to re-evaluate what they want in life. Hopefully, we will become more tolerant to failure and acknowledge that it is ok to fail and see it as a learning moment.

Why is it relevant now? what is going on in the world and how not being able to deal with failure impacts people looking for jobs or those in jeopardy of losing theirs due to COVID. Fear of losing jobs can trigger finance related stress. Agreed, financial pressures can be different for different people but stressing about it is not going to change anything. A simple approach to manage anxiety is to make a list of things that worry you financially. Rank them in the order of importance. Then add a date when that need must be met next to each item. Ask yourself if it is a basic requirement, something you want. If its something that can be deferred, then focus on that.

Remember, failure can teach us some valuable lessons. Approach your current situation with an open mind. If you are worried about losing your job, approach your employer and suggest working for 3 days instead of 5. I know quite a few who have done that and have managed to retain their job. Think out of the box.

Failure or fear of failure induces stress which in turn shuts down our ability to reason and think positively. We tend to overthink and imagine all worst-case scenarios which then triggers a stress spiral which prevents you to think out of the box.

There are various approaches that are around to help people better plan their resources and all we need to do is ask for help. As a society we are all finding our compassion by reaching out to others in need. Look around. We need to realise that it is not only us, but the entire world is going through the same situation. That is the truth that makes the world progress.

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