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Corage: The Joy in Failure

Failure is scary, but it can also be valuable in our life’s successes.

by Sally Eames

Recently, I gave a client an inquiry to take home and ponder until our next 
meeting.

Where is the joy in failure?

It’s a good question and I’ve been thinking about it too. One of the things I have re-realized (as in “realized again”) is that I have become better at failing over the years. And I’ve discovered that there can be great joy in failing.

First off, if you’re going to fail, fail big. Because failing big means you took a huge risk. You said YES! to an opportunity and ran with it. And maybe the opportunity turned out to be too heavy or covered in spikes or on fire and you dropped it. Maybe it was squished or stabbed or burned. Or maybe you tripped over something you didn’t see while you were running, resulting in a failed attempt. But you succeeded hugely in being alive, and there’s something so beautiful and precious in that that it defies words.

One other thing about failing big: It’s the best way to learn a lot very quickly. For example: in my coaching training, every module had a tag team coaching component where one person is the client and coaches “tap in” every few minutes. So one person starts the coaching, after some time, another person jumps up and takes their place, then another coach comes in and so on. This happens in front of the entire cohort. It can be intimidating. Because anything stupid you do gets seen.

I realized the first time around that, though I was scared to death to do it, I was going to learn tons if I participated in that exercise. Plus, it really sucks for the client if the bell to switch goes off and nobody pops out of their chair to tap in. Eventually there comes a point when that happens, and at that point I was inevitably the person who jumped up and took over. Even if I had no idea what I was going to do.

I resolved I wasn’t going to tap in during the final training round. I’d done it every.single.time during our previous workshops, and I knew there were participants who never had. But then that moment came when nobody else was going up. So I did. Only this time I knew what I wanted to do. And I proceeded to do it. Thoroughly.

And it went badly.

It was a huge, garish, glorious, hideous failure.

You know what happened? As a result of that blistering failure in front of a whole bunch of people whose respect I valued, I learned one of the most valuable lessons of my entire coaching training. I solved an issue that had been dogging me since my very first practice coaching session and the answer would never have occurred to me if I hadn’t gone down in flames so very, very publicly. I finally learned what it meant to coach the whole person. Because that was a well-earned, beautifully executed failure. It deserved celebrating.

To err is human. We are built to make messes and break hearts and knock things over in the process of becoming. We are not perfect, and to go down (or up) in flames is our birthright. It’s not pleasant, and most of the time, it is NOT fun. But when we fail, when we shoot for the moon and miss, not only are we fully human in the attempt and in the pain, we give other humans around us permission to risk and perhaps fail (but perhaps succeed) as well.

Sally Eames, CPCC, ACC operates Corage Coaching. She is a Certified Professional Co-Active coach and a graduate of the Coaches Training Institute. She is also an International Coach Federation Associate Certified Coach. For the full text of this column, please visit her blog. For more information on her work as a Co-active coach, please visit her site at havecorage.wordpress.com.

Justin Shimko

Justin Shimko is an award-winning writer and political analyst. He began as a reporter in his college days at the University of Oklahoma, writing for The Oklahoma Daily (rated as one of the best collegiate newspapers in the nation) and The Oklahoman, the statewide newspaper, winning awards from the CSPA and the Society of Professional Journalists. He later moved on to research and writing work for a number of political campaigns. His email is [email protected]