Failure

July 14, 2020

Over recent months we have spoken about a lot of different topics; gratitude, appreciation and more. But one of our favourite topics – not in terms of enjoying it but in terms of its value – is failure. Failure; that sense that we have failed. Failure, it’s part of everyone’s life. It’s part of being human.

We have reflected a lot on failure because in the world that we live in, as far as being a coach, failure’s par for the course. You actually have to fail, in order to get to the top, right?

Types of Failure

There’s more than one type of failure. There’s failure that happens because you didn’t do enough, and, deep down, you know it. And that’s the one that hurts a little bit. And then there’s one that happens simply because circumstances are outside of your control. It’s like if you’ve ever lost a football match, against a team that were hands down better than you. Nothing you could’ve done. You go on going, “Geez, they were good.”

When Greg started doing all long distance running about 14 years ago, he started out, did his first 10k, then he was warming up for his first ever marathon. And the first ever marathon he did, was the Brisbane marathon – probably about 2007.

Greg got to the 38 km mark and he was really hurting. It was hard. Into the difficult part of the race, and he went, “Oh, shit.” And he walked for 100 metres. It’s enough. Keep going, keep going. And he finished the marathon. Greg did it in about four hours and for a short time he felt like he’d failed, because he walked! Right?

And that was one of those ones where Greg felt he didn’t do enough. He could’ve done more. Right? Now he has ended up doing heaps of marathons and got to the point where he was running a marathon every bloody weekend. And then he did the Gobi Desert, which was this big race, which was an ultra-marathon. And he did that, and was really proud of himself for doing that.

Then Greg got to the Atacama Desert. There’s this other ultra-marathon. Greg remembers it was in 2010 when the earthquakes hit Chile, and he got to the race venue in the desert just really late. They landed at altitude in the desert, less than 24 hours before race start. And Greg had a bit of altitude sickness.

Anyway, day one and Greg went running with his mate, Glen Hunt, and after about 400 metres, they were both puffing and out of breath. That afternoon, he was throwing up uncontrollably, because of how hard it was. Greg ran the next day again, another marathon, and was throwing up again. Got to day three, and damn near killed himself out in the desert, trying to get through. It was a 45km run across sand dunes. 

Greg recalls being in the sick tent that night, bent over, thinking, “Man, you’ve got to somehow in about 10 hours, be back on the start line.” Then the doctor came in at about 1:00 in the morning, and he said, “You’re stabilised!” Greg’s temperature was normal, and all this kind of stuff. He remembers sipping on a can of Pepsi of all things. It was the only thing that would go down. And the doctor said, “You can go now.” So Greg was sitting by the campfire. Greg said to the doctor, “What about tomorrow, can I run?” And he said, “I’m not going to say no, mate. It’s up to you. But tomorrow there’s a 15 km salt flat crossing, and if you fall over out there, we can’t rescue you.” 

Greg recalls sitting there, going, “What the f*ck are you doing? You don’t need to do this tomorrow. What are you trying to prove to anyone? There’s no shame in this now, mate.” It was this crazy idea of sitting there even thinking about it. It is hard to believe Greg was even thinking about it. The risk he would’ve been taking.

So Greg didn’t race the next day, and was completely at peace with it. Completely at peace with it. He took the day off, and then re-entered the race on the fifth day. He got to the end and remembers finishing. He did 210 kms out of 250 and was really happy and proud of himself for the effort. He felt like he’d finished the race even technically.

And that is the other type of failure, where the things that happened at the beginning of the race, around getting to the venue too late and things, they were out of Greg’s control. And that sickness, there’s nothing Greg could’ve done about that. So he was proud of his effort, compared to that first marathon where he got a little bit weak, at a key moment, and it scarred him a bit. 

What we have just described is the big difference in failure. When you think about the word itself it carries this real heavy burden, and it comes with some shame. Failure hurts your ego, your esteem, your motivation. It is a powerful work and that’s what’s really important.

Understanding the word – failure and reframing it

Greg’s story points to the importance of really understanding what this word means. We don’t actually like the word. So often we need to frame it, re-frame the word. Greg re-framed it. He didn’t fail on that race across the Atacama – he actually succeeded.

So the whole thing is, what do you mean by it? What are your goals? How do you become the very best you? Do you grow in self-respect, in mental strength? So you came out of that situation, a stronger human being. Greg came out of that situation, a wiser human being. Because when he made that call that he wasn’t  going to do that day, he was taking care of himself. But it also meant that no-one else had to go out there looking for him, et cetera. He wasn’t risking someone else’s life.  So he really wrapped failure that day into a different way of thinking.

There’s this great quote. It says, 

“Our greatest passions come from our greatest pains.” 

That was what it was like for Greg in the middle of the Atacama desert. The motivation that Greg got by not completing the whole of the race was phenomenal. It gave Greg this great energy to keep going and to be a success. That’s the thing that comes from when you don’t succeed, is you’ve got to use it as an energy source. But it can’t be negative. It can’t be a put down source. It’s got to be a, “Okay, I didn’t get there. I’m going to do it again. I’m going to do it again.” 

So stop using the word failure. That’s really important. There’s other words, like stuffed it, shanked it, missed out, buggered it up, had a loss, missed it, rejected. All these kind of things, they’re better. Got closer, nearly did it. These things are better, because if you’re trying to do something big in life, you absolutely guarantee you’re going to fail 50 times before you get there. 

And it’s not just about marathons and ultra physical challenges – but everything in life. It’s not just the big goals. It’s the everyday things, like relationships, and work. Just your general fitness, or your finances. There’s other failures there, that are closer to home, these can be a bit harder to take sometimes.

On the playing field

And the absolute important thing is, you’re out on the playing field. You’re out on the road of life. You’re giving it your very, very best. You don’t fail there. You have set backs. You bugger things up. You shank things, et cetera. It’s the failure when you’re up in the grandstand. You’re not giving it a go. The failures when you’re blocked, can make a relationship work, but you run away from that.

Avoid

The failure’s when you actually avoid. So, sure, you run onto a footy field, you can’t win every single time. But if you come off at the end of a game, and you’ve given it everything. You’ve got into every tackle, ruck, maul, et cetera. Brilliant, you have not failed. So the failure is, if we’re going to use that word, it’s when you’re up in the grandstand, when you haven’t given it a go, when you have not actually risked, that’s when you fail.

It’s a failure not to try! There’s that great Michael Jordan quote, where he says, 

“I can accept failure. Everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” 

That sums up a lot of what our messaging is around this is. You’ve just gotta have a crack. Because, then, what it means, is if you’re trying to do something, and trying to get to an outcome, all failure or buggering it up means, is it’s a lesson to get you a little bit closer. Right? And that’s how you turn the negatives into the positive. Because if you can take a positive out of something that didn’t work, then it actually becomes growth. If you don’t take the positive, then there is no growth, and you actually repeat the same mistakes.

And so what we’ve got to do there is we’ve just got to keep on looking back, and saying, “What could I have done a little bit better? What support could I have looked for? What skill do I need to work on?” And they are the positives from it all. So you come out the other end stronger, wiser. You’re on the playing field. You’re learning from it all.

There’s a great saying, “Failure is feedback.” Never a truer word has been spoken. The key is, how do you do it? Particularly if you’ve got a heavy heart around something, or it’s a good thing. Maybe your relationship isn’t working, and you don’t know what to say. There’s so much emotion wrapped round it.

One thing that we’ve used a lot, is this thing called an “After Action Review” process. 

Review

The military use it in post-operations review. What it does, it’s about getting anyone that’s involved in something they’ve been doing and learning from it. You could do this with your relationship. It could be a team review. It could be anything. But what it’s about, is being objective. And from an external perspective, reviewing what you’ve done, historically. One of the most important things of failure, is you’ve got to get actually good at review. That’s the skill that helps you go. There’s a mindset around it. But if you don’t have the skill at doing quality review, you will never get the gold dust and the wisdom.

So the first question we always ask is, 

1. “What did you plan to happen? 

What was the goal? What did you set out to achieve?” So that might be a wonderful marriage, and a great family. It might’ve been a career where I became CEO. It might’ve been your first marathon. But what did you plan? 

2. What actually happened?

Then, what actually happened? Life got real. We stuffed this. You got injured. You didn’t get promoted. Then you say, “Okay, that was reality, the facts that I can see. What I planned, then what actually happened. 

3. Then what’s the gap? What’s the root cause?

Why is there a gap between the two? And what’s the root cause?” Because that’s the lesson. That’s the wisdom. If you don’t look at that, you’ll never actually work out why there is a gap. So, what’s the gap? What’s the root cause? 

4. What’s the lesson learned?

And what’s the real lesson, the hard truth? Maybe the process improvement, attitude. The wisdom you must take, and absorb, from this particular lesson. Once you’ve done those four steps, the final thing is, “What are your next steps?” Those five steps will help you through almost at least 80, 90% of challenges or failures in your life.

5. What are your next steps?

We love those steps. What did you plan? What actually happened? What is the gap? What’s the root cause of the gap? What’s the real lessons you can learn here? And now what are the steps I can take?

One of the things Pricey has learned when he has faced setbacks within his own life is that there is a timing factor here too. There are some times when you need to engage in the five steps named above straight away. There are times when you need to get straight back on to the horse. There are other times when your gut intuition says, “No, friend. Leave it for a short period of time.”

Pricey learnt from working with the students for many years, there were some times when the students could see that they’d failed on a sports field, an exam, and one thing he learnt was to just  leave them alone for a day or two. And when some of the high emotional energy had calmed down a bit, he could then say, “Okay, let’s look at that game from last weekend now. What actually happened?”, et cetera. 

We’re always a bit sus, when you hear a sporting coach blasting guys immediately after a game. It is a timing thing. We’ve got to be aware there are times when you’ve got a window immediately after there’s been a setback. But there are other times when, if you’re going to learn from it, you need a tiny bit of time. But those steps, which will be on our site, on our website, they are really important.

The timing is so important. There’s a thing Greg coaches, called P2R2, which is 

Prepare, Perform, Recover, Review. 

And this is a high performance lifecycle. Essentially, that’s how you get better at things, right? Because you prepare for something. You work out… set out what you’re going to achieve to do. Just say it’s a footy game, and you prepare all week. You rehearse. You practise. Then you go and play, which is your perform. Then you recover, and then you review.

If you don’t have the recovery piece, you can’t do an effective review. Because it does two things. It allows the mind to have some time to actually get a bit of perspective, and calm down and a bit of distance between the event and the review. It also gives you time to gather data, and anything like that, if you’ve got statistics to get. And then you come back with a fresh mind and a fresh body, with a bit of distance, so you can objectively actually, “Okay, well that’s what happened.” So that recovery piece is vital. And if you do too much review, too close to performance, it doesn’t land right.

Language

Grego and Pricey both struggle with the actual word – failure. If you change that to the word, ‘set back’ for example – it only seems small but it can make the world of difference in how we think. So even saying a small, small change. But you say… Who says you failed?

We meet so many people who say “I’ve failed as a husband. I’ve failed as a father. I’ve failed as a boss.” Well the challenge is to twist that around. You’ve got to reframe it and think “I’ve got to march to my own drum. “ Then you are the one setting the standard – you’re the one knowing whether you have succeeded or havn’t. You’re the one setting the goals. One person’s goal, and one person’s level of success, might be very different to somebody else’s.

Greg has done a lot of work with elite athletes and he has noticed that with them or even with senior executives – is that he gets them to measure their performance against… maybe out of 10. How are you going, as a leader, out of 10? How much trust do you have, out of 10? How’s your fitness out of 10? What he has found is the best of the best don’t score themselves too highly, but not too low. They’re a bit below what would be probably fair. But then the thing to remember is, their 10 is phenomenally high. Their standards are really, really high. But what that actually means is, then they’re motivated to achieve their very best. Bring their very best to the table.

The place where people meet to seek the highest – this is holy ground.

So, if it’s a leadership thing, Greg will say to them, “If you were the best version of you as a leader. If you were a dealer in hope, you were magnificent in building your team, and that’s a 10, picture the very best. What are you now out of 10?” Now that’s how you measure out of 10. Because you actually define quite clearly what the goal is. And a lot of time, people aren’t actually trying to get to that very best version, they’re trying to get to some version below that. They’re actually only trying to get to a six or a seven.

And what it means, what Greg has found, is when you do that, it relieves you of some of the pain, because not achieving an average version of yourself hurts, but not achieving the best version of yourself, is totally acceptable, because it’s not easy.

With all of this too, we think it’s so important that we actually separate the person and the particular goal. You are not a failure. You, as a person, are not a failure. Maybe you didn’t achieve your goal. Maybe you didn’t get to where you wanted to. Maybe you failed to appreciate something. All of those sorts of things. But you, as a person, are not a failure.

As fathers, as partners, as friends, we need to be really aware of that in the way that we relate with somebody else. “You are good. You are valuable. Maybe we didn’t get to this particular level. Maybe you didn’t achieve your goal. But you, as a person, have not failed.” Because one of the saddest things, is when a person has a particular belief, “I am a failure.” And we’ve got to say, “No, no, no, no.” And we’ve got to frame that in a different way.

Pitfalls

Winners never stop trying – it is not about quitting or not

There’s a few things here that are really important around failure. There’s a whole thing, winners never quit. And I tell you what, maybe they don’t stop trying, but then it’s not even remotely true they don’t quit, because they realise if their approach is wrong, they go a different way. So winners are always going, “Okay, we tried that. Did it work? Did it not? Do we keep trying, and get better at it, or do we go a different way?” So winners never stop trying, but they quit a certain angle, a lot of the time. There’s a subtlety there to that. 

Winners never stop trying.

And this reminds me of that quote by Coco Chanel- “Beating on a wall will not turn it into a door.” So if you keep at something, when you’re never going to win, because you’re not looking at the truth of the situation, or you’re not growing, then that’s a real pitfall and failure.

Don’t need to be perfect

We’ve seen so many people, particularly young people that we’ve worked with, they never wanted us to be a perfect person. They wanted me / you to be able to say, “Hey, I’m sorry, I didn’t quite achieve it there. I think I might have stuffed up”, et cetera. So they weren’t wanting perfection. They wanted us to stay on the field. They wanted us to get back into the journey. That was the true measure of success.

No-one ever wants to be around someone who’s perfect, because they don’t exist. And that’s the thing. If you pretend you’re perfect, the crap detector will go off quickly, right?

Awareness

One of the saddest things we see is when people are not aware that they are actually failing. This is where the whole ego comes in. We’re so ego driven, and we’re so need focused, if I don’t have awareness, if I haven’t got a good friend that can say, “Hey Damien, you know you’re stuffing up that relationship.” Now, if I haven’t got someone who can speak a bit of truth to me, I can be actually failing within a relationship, failing in an important area of my life, and I’m not even aware of it. That’s where a really good friend will say, “Hey mate, you need to spend more time with your missus. You need to spend more time with your kids.” And they can actually say things such as that.

That’s the whole blissful ignorance thing. You can be strolling along in life, and think that maybe half your life is good, and the other half… well, you can only get half of it right. You tell yourself these bullshit stories, and accept some failure. Almost at a really deep down conscious level, without realising what’s going on. I think in cases like that, a good mate… and even doing things like a life scoreboard, where you measure yourself against the most important things in your life, those things will reveal, very quickly, where you could be doing better.

Avoidance

Because another pitfall is avoiding it then, right? It’s not trying anything, right? It’s being so afraid of failure, or so afraid of a public… even a private failure, you just don’t do it. That’s an impossible task, because if you ever want to achieve anything in life, like having a relationship that’s meaningful, run a marathon, or get promoted at work, pretty much guarantee you that the par for the course is five failures. It’s going to happen.

Not learning from your mistakes

Another thing, a great pitfall is where we don’t learn. If you are kicking for a footy team, and you line up the ball in a particular way, you hook to the left of the post, then you do it again, you hook to the left of the post, you hook it again to the left of the post, if you have 50 kicks at goal, and for 50 of them you go to the left of the post, you are a fool if you don’t sit down and say, “What am I learning here? I’ve got to learn something from it.” Absolute idiot.

That’s it. Kick more to the right!

So failure is not really about failure but rather the courage and the willingness to grow and to learn from our setbacks.  The wisdom here, is you’ve got to admit it… In fact, you’ve got to search for the lessons in growth and life a bit. You can get on auto pilot mode a bit, sometimes, and growth doesn’t come your way. That’s okay in periods. But eventually you’ve got to come to a point where you’re looking pretty hard at yourself, and say, “How can I do this a little bit better?” Because that’s what it means to be universal about it. It’s not to sit on auto pilot. It’s to own the things that are going on in your life. Because the saying we’ve got is, 

“Ownership always precedes victory.” You’ve got to own it.

There are times when it’s okay to walk away from some particular scene. You know? You work at a business for many years. It isn’t working out. You want a particular goal. It just isn’t working out. That is okay. But walk away, a wiser man.

And in the end it just reinforces this whole thing around, you’re not your failures. You’re also not your successes either. You’re not your bank account. You’re not your medals. You neither, nor. Those are the things that shape your true character, and help you grow as an individual. Because one of the real big things, the whole reason we even started Universal Men, was to help blokes with mental health. And not just go from not being happy, but to actually being the very best versions of themselves. And failure, and some of the shame that can come with that, can lead to some really bad mental health, and even suicide.

What we’ve got to do, is separate ourselves from the things that didn’t go right in life. Separate ourselves, and get the lessons, so that we can turn that negative, or anything that hasn’t worked out for us, into a real positive. And we’ve got to do that as individuals, but we’ve also got to look out for our mates. And if you see a mate out there, who’s taking something a bit too hard, a bit too much to heart, who isn’t seeing the lesson, who isn’t finding an improvement, even a 1% improvement, that’s where we think, for us, as real good blokes, have a yarn to someone and say, “Mate, have you tried this? What about this? You’ve stalled. You’re not growing. You can be doing that better, I reckon. Maybe try this.” And just helping a brother out.

Us blokes so often we wrap our sense of self around what we can do; we are more than that!

And when we’re not doing. When we’re not, in the eyes of others, succeeding in what we’re doing. We may have lost a job. We may have lost a relationship. Whatever the thing is. When we’re not doing, we can often have a great sense of failure. And with it can come a sense of shame, weakness. As men we need to know;

It’s okay not to be strong. It’s okay not to be in control all of the time. 

Now, what we are saying is hard. No-one’s going to argue about that. It’s okay not to be strong. We can say those words. It’s okay not to be in control all of the time. Now, that is hard, but it is okay. You are more than that. Sadly, a lot of us blokes will put up a whole pile of smoke, and we’ll say, “Are you okay?” “Oh, yeah, I’m good, I’m good.” And that’s where we think men have got to really listen to our intuition. And if you get a gut feeling that one of your mates isn’t okay, trust it. Trust it and follow him up. Go for a walk. Go for a beer. Whatever the thing is, and follow it up, and follow it up. Because sometimes we will put up a whole pile of smoke screens.

We did an episode about six months ago, called, “Having a deeper conversation with a mate”. And I think there’s some great tips in that episode, about if you are finding a mate who’s got too many barriers up, and what to do. It’s about sharing some of your own troubles, your own lessons, your own mistakes in life, because the more we talk about those, the more people will share back.

There’s that woman called Brene Brown, and she’s got a lot of material around on how to lead. And she says, “Being a vulnerable person, is one of the greatest tests of being a really great leader.” And I would say it’s more than a great thing. It’s about being a fantastic man. If I can be, say, “This is me. I’m not perfect. If I can be valuable with the people I love, but still be strong. If I can admit that I’ve stuffed up, et cetera, I am truly a wonderful man.”

We’re going to finish with a Michael Jordan quote. Greg’s doing a lot of research on him at the moment. He said, “I failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.”

Stay legendary

Pricey and Grego

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