Failure

You Are Thinking About "Right and Wrong" All Wrong

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DO THE RIGHT THING.

YOU ARE DOING THIS WRONG.

IS THIS RIGHT?

WHERE DID I GO WRONG?

Do you ever ask these questions? Better yet, do these questions rule your life? Are you distracted by doing things "correctly"? "I want to do it right" is probably the most common problem I hear clients complain about when we discuss obstacles to their success. I hate this notion that there is a right or a wrong way to do things in life. That is right, I just said Hate. Oooo, strong word! It is the most unhealthy mindset because it puts so much pressure on you to be perfect. Look back at my post on making imperfect action a few weeks ago. So many people think that something has to be perfect for it to be put to market or submitted to a boss. 

WHAT TO THINK

Of course you want to complete something well and feel proud of it, like that science project you spent a week constructing in high school for the science fair, but using the words Right and Wrong puts more pressure on you than is already there for the task.

Example 1, Creating a logo: Holy cannoli people think this has to be perfect. The first pressure in getting a logo made is whether or not you as the business owner likes the logo. A mere emotional reaction. The second pressure is when the business owner worries whether or not it is perfect for their brand. Uh-oh, now there is a double stack of pressure and only one of them actually matters! 

Spoiler alert: the emotional response one has to the logo is the only answer you need. It determines how well suited the logo is for the brand. It is a beneficial double whammy. Which means you are left with the extra layer of pressure dangling off the side that relates more to how the world will perceive your brand, and not the logo itself. Which means you do not need that pressure while the logo is being made. Which means you need to chill out. There is no right or wrong. 

Example 2, Nobody likes your product: This is where right or wrong really hits home like a wrecking ball for people. When an owner gets feedback that their service was not effective or the customer did not enjoy the product, this must mean the entrepreneur is a failure. Better luck next time. 

NOPE. This means that you now have data to inform how to change your product...if you WANT to. That is the key. What do you WANT to do with the feedback? 

Feeling like a failure is a choice. You call yourself that. It is another story you tell. 

Do not worry, I am guilty of it too. I am guilty of thinking that there was a right way to progress in life. Originally I thought that the right way was to get good grades in high school so that I go to a good college, work hard there so I get a job, go to grad school so that I can become an "expert", and then settle into a career that makes money. A lot of people do this, and it is not wrong to do so. But thinking that there is one single right way to do this life thing is not true and it is not healthy. 

I thought it until I got a bad grade in a class and realized that it was not going to impact my work prospects after college. I thought it until I realized that my gut was not compelling me to go back to graduate school as I thought it "should" have over the past six years. It does not matter when you do something, because it is YOUR choice based on YOUR desire. It is nobody's business to tell you when you must do something. 

I know what some of you are thinking: "But Taylor, there is definitely right and wrong. I could lose my job if I do or say the wrong thing."  True, sure. There is a wrong answer to math problems (I would know, I struggled with math). There are inappropriate things to do at work that threaten your employment (I would not know because I am an angel). But I encourage you to think of the words differently.

WHAT TO DO

"Right" and "Wrong" have a heavy, sharp, pressured connotation to them. Even if you feel like you did something "right", you feel the pressure about it. I want you to change the words. I want you to try saying "Healthy" vs. "Unhealthy" for YOU instead of "Right" vs. "Wrong" based on someone else's expectations. Doing so alleviates the pressure and makes the outcome positive. Not only that, it taps what you feel good about.

Try it out: Instead of thinking that you did something wrong when your product receives criticism, ask yourself "what do I want to do about it now? What would be healthy for me to put effort into adjusting?" 

In the absence of extra pressure, there is more space to be inspired. 

WHAT WILL HAPPEN

Right vs. Wrong relates to following what we think of as rules and acceptable behavior, but what we do not think about is the fact that we humans made up the word "rules" and "morals" and defined "acceptable behavior". Now that I dropped that knowledge bomb on you, I am not telling you to go kill someone because morals do not exist. Instead I am telling you to take the pressure of perfectionism off of your task because no human has the power to tell you a one single right way to do things. 

By thinking about what is healthy for you or what you want to do instead of what you have to do or should do, you promote your own confidence and growth while connecting why your work is healthy for you and why your work is healthy for the world.

You are promoting healthy human evolution instead of addressing a single microscopic moment of pressure.  

I have a client right now who knows she must have a difficult conversation with her mother in order to move forward as a confident, independent adult. She began saying what she "needs" to do and why she "has to" do it, but over the course of a few conversations she has shifted the language and realized that she genuinely "wants" to have the conversation because she recognizes its beneficial outcome.

Her body language has changed, her motivation has changed, and now she wants to face the challenge because she sees it as an opportunity for growth. Not just popping a stress bubble that will come back in another form later on. 

This is the resilience I wrote about a few weeks ago. If you face challenges with the question of what next move would be healthiest for you, you will never experience setbacks as failure again. You will take a next step, and then another, and then another, because there is no right way to move through life. There is only the way that you want to. 

Peace From Peril: How To Turn "Defeat" Into An Advantage

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Last week we talked about achievement and this week we are talking about defeat, so here is a cute puppy to help.

Now that the Olympics are over, all of the athletes are probably meeting multiple times a week with their sport psychologists to talk about what they did wrong, what mindset they could have maintained instead, and how to deal with the regret of messing up that one turn on the course. In the Olympics and athletic world, "defeat" comes most explicitly in competition, which does not occur every day. In the real world for all of us common folk, even more factors impact our pursuit of success that the defeats can be much more frequent and of many magnitudes. A particularly rough day could include tons of little defeats, a few medium sized defeats, and one or two big ones, all even unrelated. And that is in the regular ole work force and corporate jungle. In entrepreneurship, it can feel like defeats are constant, as though the pressure you feel is a champion boxer sitting on your shoulders and swinging their arm down to punch you in the face every hour or two. But just like last week, defeat means different things to different people. 

As far as I can tell, I am human, which means that competition is hard wired into my DNA. I accept that, though I despise competition now. I grew up playing soccer and tennis and I downhill ski raced. I loved skiing but did not care or know how to take seriously the competitive element of the races. Maybe I was too focused on playing Game Boy at the time. Tennis I took seriously because of the skill involved and the finesse needed to get through a match, but soccer was my primary sport because I loved the stimulus of running around while I was simultaneously proficient at scoring goals. I held a high performance standard for myself throughout my soccer career. It was not until college, though, that I realized it was more about pressure on my self-concept as opposed to pressure related to the competition of the sport.

That was important. Certain experiences early on in college taught me to rethink what things in life warrant stress, worry, and concern, and this helped me realize that athletic competition is not one of them. I found much more pleasure in my sport from that moment on. Pressure was lifted. It did not matter.

Now I own two businesses on my own and feel pressure for...umm...let us see...survival?....all the time.  Of course success in business involves competition, but as an entrepreneur you get to choose against whom you want to compete. When I think about competition in the working world, I automatically picture the corporate landscape of sales quotas, red tape, and cubicle claustrophobia. A large corporation that looks like that would not be any competition of mine, so that stressful image is deleted. Sure, I have performed a lot of competitor research but, no matter what industry we are all in or if you are some kind of entrepreneur, your greatest competitor is your very own brain. 

Oh yeah, it can be a real bully. Because your skull is only so big, your self-concept hangs out with your self-talk, which then gossips its way over to your self-worth, and while they are spreading rumors, you feel more and more like crap and then spin the vicious cycle in such a way that the gossip only gets worse and affects every part of your day. 

Enter the "defeats". Once your self-worth is demoralized by your self-talk to the point where you think that one more second not getting an email response from a prospective client means you are a waste of space and organs, every little thing becomes a defeat and the entrepreneurial F-word (failure....) starts slinking in from the shadows to join the conversation. 

But who is telling you that you are a failure? You are.

Whose expectations have you failed to meet? Yours.

"But...but...but..." No no. It is your pressure. It is the value you place on the work. Sure, your boss or your dad tells you what the task is and how you need to perform, but he or she is operating under the assumption that you care enough about the work to get it done. Stressing about the task is simply your reaction to it. 

I have a long list of projects I have not finished and about which I sometimes keep myself up at night worrying, but that is because I have placed value on them. No one else told me that those things are important to finish and deliver. Just me.

Of course, the pressure to complete tasks by a deadline is something different, but calling their incompletion a defeat is simply my own perception and label. Like the achievements I discussed last week, however, defeats are equally subjective. I see successes as moments of gratitude and I see defeats as opportunities to learn. After all, if I curled up and cried when I hit an adverse moment but did nothing about it to try something different in the future, I would never have made it past six months with a business, not to mention five service evolutions.

Let us be real, we all have curled up and cried about work before, but I am lucky that it did not keep me from wanting to try something different.  

Defeats are moments that stop you and give you a chance to say "Well, crap. I don't know XYZ" and learn something new if you  care enough about the work you are doing. If you do not care about your work and you go home knowing ahead of time that you are going to impulsively complain about the day, then it is time to reassess your goals and outlook on achievement. 

Think about that for a second...

 

Really think about it... 

 

Let it sink in...

Now that you have decided whether or not you care about evolving in your current work, do what you did last week for achievements but flip it to be about defeat:

  1. Create a working definition of defeat or failure for yourself. What comes to mind? How easily do you come to an answer?
  2. List out examples of "defeats" that you have experienced recently, and 
      1. note why you think they are defeats (external or internal? hate your job? consequences of the "failure"?)
      2. note what can be learned from that defeat

You will love the relief that comes with realizing you are not actually a failure at life. As usual, it is about perspective. It does not matter if you are a professional athlete, you work in a cubicle, you own your own business, or you are in medical school. Any stress of pressure and competition as well as any fear of failure is yours and yours alone.

Now that you really know if you care about your work or not, the choice is yours: want to curl up in a ball and cry and stay the same or do you want to curl up in a ball and cry and then evolve into a more authentic, aligned, and purposeful you?

How To Win Olympic Gold Every Day In Life And At Work

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Here is a fun fact about me: I cry every time I watch the Olympics. Yup, that is right. Huuuuuuuuuge sap right here. With a foundation of pride the athletes have in representing their country to how impressive they are in their individual skillsets, the Olympics get me EVERY. DAMN. TIME. Watching the competition can be so stressful, too, though (#Womensicehockey last night, anyone?) even though I am not competing and I have no personal stake in the outcome. I cry because no matter what the result, it is such a cool achievement to simply be there and compete in the sports about which they are all so clearly passionate. I am always fascinated, though, by the athletes' focus on winning medals as the ultimate emblem of their achievement when any athlete who has ever participated in the Olympics that did not earn a medal can still call him/herself an olympian and garner almost as much recognition for their athletic prowess than the medaling superstars. Obviously not the exposure and press conferences and sponsorships and book deals that come from winning medals and world cup championships all the time, but exposure nonetheless for the foundational reason that they are at the olympics: to compete in an athletic sport.

I have always had an odd relationship with competition and achievement. I have become more comfortable as an adult with certain forms of confrontation and in fact have become strong at conflict mediation in professional settings. My engagement in competition, however, ended after college. The subject of competition relates so much to narrative, both on the individual and cultural levels, that I will dedicate a whole post to it soon, but for now the Olympics has made me think a whole lot about the idea of achievement. 

When I watch Alpine Skiing in the Olympics (my favorite sport to watch), the cameras never stay on the competitors after the last run is skied for me to see how the athletes who did not make the podium or better yet who were pushed off the podium in the last run react to not getting a medal but still acknowledge that they did pretty darn well. Some athletes who get interviewed have trained themselves in the mindset that their effort is only worth it if they get a medal at the end. Some even focus only on gold and nothing else is acceptable. I am just an objective spectator who used to ski race (which means I know what the competitive aspect feels like even though I do not know what it is like to ski at 90mph down an ice rink in South Korea) but my personal mindset is if I ended up, say, in the top ten in an Olympic event, I would think that that is pretty darn cool! I would blast that all over social media. As a matter of fact, I may lose a medal somewhere or stress every night when I go to bed that it would get stolen. 

I have trophies from athletic exploits growing up but they are simply that: trophies. I would be disappointed if they were lost or stolen because I am an extremely sentimental person, but I would soon understand that they are simply representations of something I experienced and I do not need to hold on to the object in order to remember the achievement. Similarly, I gave away some shirts and sweaters a few days ago that I remember loving when I wore them and guess what? I am already over it. They are just fabric. 

I have thought in the past and currently think a lot about my sense of achievement with regard to starting and owning businesses like I have. I started wanting to own my own company way back in high school without a clue in the world a) how to start anything and b) what the heck it would be about. But that did not matter. I knew that was a goal. And the seed only grew.

So when I started The Tailored Quill in 2015 and I had multiple clients paying me for services before I even had a name, logo, or website, I of course saw it as an achievement. I had finally done it. I had created a business that I could call my own and I was immediately making profit. But what happened next? The same thing that happens after Shaun White wins a gold medal at the Olympics. New work begins. I had to provide what the clients asked for. I cannot rest on my laurels because then my enterprises will not survive. I can learn form my achievements just as I can learn from my failures and keep going. When I officially launched a crowdfunding campaign and blasted out announcement emails, I said "Okay, that is cool" because I achieved the learning experience of building those two campaigns, which I had never previously needed to know how to do. And that is the extent of that achievement because I then had to build the rest of the business. It is not like that automatically garnered me a hundred paying clients or meant that I could retire. On the contrary, that hardly caused a ripple. My brain made the mental note of the achievement but I knew I could not spend the rest of the day drinking champagne saying "that email campaign was so sexy. I have earned the day off."

Definitions of success have to be subjective but so many people and entrepreneurs listen to the objective societal definitions of it. You know, millions of dollars, big house, nice car, the latest clothes. 'merican Dream! I sort of fell prey to those ideals for a while until I realized that I have absolutely zero interest in living in a ginormous mansion. As soon as I was able to ground my goals and interests in contrast to those of society, new goals for myself and my companies were dramatically different. Achievement is no longer assigned to a monumental accomplishment but instead takes the form of teeny tiny things. 

For example, I bought a cardboard box and packaging tape at the post office this morning. There was no line (which is a miracle in itself), the box is the perfect size, and the tape does not get all bunched up and stuck on itself. The post office should get a gold medal for that because it started my day off so nicely and smoothly and it even got me stoked to tackle the other tedious items on my to-do list today. 

I have learned that achievement of the tiniest things make the biggest difference to me. I do not need to have a multi-billion dollar business on my own and I also do not want to deal with all of the staff members that a multi-billion dollar business would require. Instead, testing out a new social media strategy yesterday for the fun of it was a win. Feeling confident and comfortable expressing myself over this platform every week is a victory. Maintaining two businesses that have been profitable since both of their inceptions is my gold medal.

In reality, achievement is recognizing that for which you are grateful. I am grateful that my businesses are profitable but I am not bragging about it as though it means I have attained enlightenment over all other business people in the world. I am thankful that I was taught the new social media strategy and that it is something I can comfortably sit down and put into action. Gratitude moves you forward. 

There is an awesome scene in the military film Jarhead in which a couple soldiers are talking animatedly about the video game level that one of them is about to beat and another soldier flatly chimes in "You know what happens when you beat that game? Nothing. You start over." Humorous buzzkill but he has a point. I can be excited when I beat a level in Candy Crush but all that means is that I move on to the next level, the next challenge. I am grateful for the skills, knowledge, and strategy I used to beat that level, though. 

Achievement is what you make it, so here is your homework:

  1. Rewrite your to-do list, but this time double check to see if any tasks could be broken down to even smaller chunks that are more easily achieved. Make sure your goals are realistic for the time and resources you have available. 
  2. Define success for yourself. Whether a casual brainstorm or a formal statement, getting something down on paper that does not appease society or your mom or your overzealous business partner will feel oh so good. What is success to YOU? A bulleted list of long term goals is just as acceptable as a fantasy paragraph about where you want to live. You will not be graded.

Start thinking about what achievement looks like in your daily lives. That way, you can be like me and say "huh, that was cool" when you learn something new and cross your unique personally realistic goals off of your list every day. I am grateful to you for reading this post and I count that as an achievement. No medal necessary.