Are you failure-friendly? Does reflecting on your personal and professional mistakes make your blood pressure rise or does it inspire within you a spirit of curiosity and openness?
I recently composed my first-ever failure resume. It was a required assignment for a one-year training program I’m in called “The Shape of Leadership.”
It seemed like a fairly harmless exercise at the outset. My classmates and I were invited to write down a list of our failures and the lessons we learned through those defeats. I imagined getting the resume done swiftly on a Saturday afternoon and then moving right along with the weekend.
The failure resume proved to be more challenging than anticipated. Rather than breezing right through a list of my biggest mistakes without batting an eye, the experience was instead emotionally intense and revelatory. In creating the resume, I came face-to-face with something I try to avoid: uncomfortable feelings.
A lot of people have an aversion to closely examining failures and mistakes. We’ve learned from a young age to focus only on our successes and triumphs. Our shiniest moments take center stage while our more difficult experiences often remain tucked back in the deep, shadowy recesses of our minds.
The purpose of creating a failure resume for “The Shape of Leadership” was to provide us with a time to safely examine our failures, sifting through them for previously unnoticed lessons and worth. Initially, my brain resisted digging deeply into the assignment. I thought about keeping my failures very surface-level rather than stepping too far into my shadows.
But I fought the urge to play it safe and practiced courage instead (which is, after all, one of the core values of the program). As I stuck with the assignment, I felt something happening in my cranium.
Research over the past decade has shown that significant occurrences happen inside our brains when we fail. Synapses inside the brain fire and electrical activity takes place. New connections form. When a brain examines a personal failure with an openness to transformation, it rewires. I felt the synapses firing and rewiring as I reflected on my past failures for the resume.
There are two main approaches to working with our mistakes. We can approach them with curiosity and a desire to learn, or we can avoid thinking about them altogether. Becoming more failure-friendly with ourselves is about nurturing an internal embrace of imperfection.
Consider creating a failure resume. Or, if failure feels too strong a word, perhaps you’d like to call it a “Lessons Learned” catalogue. Whatever you call it, ponder taking intentional time to reflect on times you got it wrong. Don’t edit yourself or your life as you make your list. This isn’t for anyone else. This exercise is for you and your spirit, so be strong and courageous. Embrace your failures, and celebrate: you’ve learned a lot along the way.