Tag: failure

4/22/12 “Self-doubt”

Good day team,

This weeks challenge comes from a quote I read by the great French novelist and playwright, Honore de Balzac.

“When you doubt your power, you give power to your doubt.”

I think we all know what Balzac was referring to. When we set out to accomplish something that doesn’t go exactly as we expected, or when our ideas or actions are rejected by others, we immediately experience self-doubt. Our inner voices are suddenly fueled by negative thoughts that say things like, “My idea was stupid in the first place”, or “No one ever appreciates what I do”, or “What made you think you could accomplish this in the first place? What a fool!” and so on.

This experience of self-deprecation is one of the greatest ways we sabotage ourselves. We give our power away to that self-doubt and shy away from what we were trying to do in the first place.

How many of us sat at the dinner table growing up and were asked this question by a parent. “What did you do today at school?” Our parents were expecting us to describe what we had achieved, not how we had failed. “Well Dad, I got a B+ on my history test.” “Great son, what else?” Again, tell me what you accomplished.

Imagine how the conversation might have gone if Dad had congratulated us for our failures as well as our successes. Here’s a great example of what can happen when failure is encouraged.

Sara Blakely is the founder of Spanx, a highly successful company that makes women’s undergarments. Just a few months ago, Sara was on the cover of Forbes magazine and recognized as one of this country’s newest billionaires. She built her fortune by conceiving, designing, and manufacturing a product that millions of women around the world wear. It’s a bit like a modern day version of a girdle. Call it panty hose without the hose.

Sara didn’t come up with this over night. She was involved in a number of start-up ventures before she launched Spanx. They all failed miserably. But unlike many of us, she never got discouraged. She never allowed self-doubt to disempower her. She just kept coming up with new ideas and trying to turn them into successful businesses.

When Sara and her brother were growing up, their father asked them a completely different question at dinner time – “How did you fail today?” When they answered the question, their Dad would respond, “Gee, that’s great. You learned another set of lessons about what works and doesn’t work. Good job!”

When I read about Sara’s father asking this question, I realized that he was helping to teach some valuable lessons:


failure is to be expected whenever we try to achieve something new

what we learn from failing can be most important.

Instead of criticizing his children for failure, he did just the opposite. Consequently, Sara grew up more than willing to take risks, try out new ideas and products, fall on her face more than a few times, and still get up everyday with the attitude that she was doing the right thing – because she was failing! Think of how different your life would be if you had been raised to embrace and celebrate your failures? The whole notion of success and failure would be turned on it’s head.

This came as a revelation to me a few years back when I realized that I made many decisions from fear rather than from desire. I wanted to write a book of poetry when I was in my 20’s but I was too afraid of criticism. I wanted to go back to school and get an advanced degree. But I was too afraid that the work load would prevent me from attending to my business and that I wouldn’t make enough money. I wanted to learn how to play piano again. But I was afraid I wasn’t committed enough to practice and that it would be a waste of my time. I wanted to travel to Africa but I was too afraid that I might get sick and not be able to find good healthcare. The list goes on and on. In each case, the more I heeded my fear and inner negative voices, the more empowered they became. Eventually, they became powerful enough to talk me out of doing what I wanted to do and feel justified in not doing them.

One day, I got angry enough to change. I wasn’t going to continue to listen to my self-doubt. I was going to start making decisions based on what I wanted to do. I felt like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, when, after many years of war and destitution, she reached into the earth, grabbed a clump of dirt and raised it to the sky exclaiming, “As God is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again!” Well, as my God was my witness, I wasn’t going to let fear lead my life!

I had to come up with ways to neutralize my self-doubt so that it wouldn’t become so convincing. I needed to find ways to convert doubt and defeat into empowerment and courage.

I discovered some things that helped me and offer them here as suggestions that might help you have more trust in yourself :

1. Get grounded through presence

I often find that when I’m experiencing a lot of self-doubt, the simple act of trying to be present brings me out of it. This requires focusing on my attention on something very specific (like feeling my feet or my breath) to bring me into the moment and change the subject. Sometimes I focus on a sound, or a picture, or a sensation. Sometimes, going for a short walk will immediately pull me out of my negative thoughts and refresh me. Talking with a colleague or friend can work as well.

2. Balance the minuses with pluses

If you naturally see the glass half empty, try seeing it half full. If you still can’t focus on the positive aspects of something, ask someone who you know sees the world naturally as half full. There are always losses and gains to everything, but focusing only on the losses keeps us in that negative place. I often ask my clients to tell me what they gained from having worked with me. I keep their comments written down and review them whenever I find myself in a particularly bad bout of self-deprecating thoughts.

3. Find what makes you feel good

Finding yourself in a funk can be remedied by doing something that makes you feel good. Find what nurtures you and do it. Maybe you enjoy listening to music or reading books. How about having your significant other massage your hands or feet? Sometimes, when I’m feeling overwhelmed by self-doubt, I take a hot bath. My husband finds his joy in playing, writing and arranging music. This always changes his state of mind and heart. Make sure you make time in your day to play at whatever you enjoy and get enough sleep. All of these things will help you maintain a healthier state of mind and body.

4. Reach out to others and connect

As much as we can try to do things for ourselves in our moments of self-doubt, reaching out to others for help is essential. This is where coaches and therapists, teachers and mentors really come in handy. They are trained to listen and support us when we need it most. We can also benefit from acting in this role for another. One of my favorite ways to neutralize my self-doubt is by coaching someone else. Just by taking the focus off of me and being present to them, I automatically benefit from the interaction. And, it always gives me a different view finder through which to look. Even reaching out to a co-worker or friend and asking how they see something can help us adopt a more positive point of view.

This week, try using some of these methods to cast self-doubt and deprecation out of your mind. No one ever got anywhere by listening to their inner thoughts telling they couldn’t do something. See if one of these methods helps you cultivate a different set of thoughts that serve you better. How about working on your attitudes about success and failure? Maybe just seeing it completely differently is enough to encourage you to keep going.

Having the courage and determination to keep trying in the midst of failure seems to be one of the major keys to success. When you experience self-doubt, don’t give it any more power than it already has.

As Steve Jobs powerfully reminded us,

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

~ Steve Jobs, Co-Founder and CEO of Apple Computer

Have a good week!


Kathleen Doyle-White

Founder, Pathfinders Coaching

(503) 296-9249

© Copyright 2012 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

11/22/10 “Benefits of Failure & Imagination”

Good day, team,

At a client’s request, I’m resending a piece that I originally sent in 2008, from J. K. Rowling’s commencement address to Harvard’s graduating class. This is part one; I will send part two next week.

In 2008, J.K. Rowling, acclaimed author of the Harry Potter novels, gave the commencement address at Harvard University. She called her talk “The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination.” When I read it, I found it so inspiring that I wanted to share some of the best parts with you.

First, a bit about her background, as context. J.K. Rowling’s parents both grew up poor, so they insisted she study subjects in college that would land her a great, high-paying job. She, on the other hand, wanted to write fiction. The two parties compromised on her pursuing a vocational degree in modern languages. But once in school, Rowling quickly switched to majoring in classics.

Though the decision weighed heavily upon her, her passion was so great that she continued to write stories during her lunch hours. Unlike her parents, who feared poverty, Rowling feared failure, and she actually ended up attracting it in significant ways. Here is an excerpt from her speech:

“Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”

However, the author found a light at the end of the tunnel when she ended up in the most dire conditions. And, in doing so, she was able to realize her destiny.

“So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

“You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.

“Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.

“The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned.”

Your challenge this week is to face your fear of failure and decide not to let it overtake you. Take your fearful state of mind and heart and use it propel you into doing something you love or to find alternative ways to live. For example, a friend of mine and her neighbors recently planted a city garden to offset the cost of food. She never realized how much she loved getting up early in the morning and going out to plant or harvest what she grows. My neighbor has already lost 10 pounds and is feeling better than ever now that she bikes and walks to work. A client has finally quit a job she hated for years to pursue her dream of painting watercolors full time.

If we take Rowling’s words to heart, we can begin to see these changes in fortune as an opportunity to gain something new rather than to lose or to fail. Decide for yourself what path you would like your life to take based on your passion for it, rather than the fear of failing at it.

At the end of her speech, Rowling quoted from the great Roman philosopher Seneca. As you face your fear of failure this week, remember his words:

“As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.”

Stay tuned for next week‘s challenge for the second subject of her speech, the importance of imagination.

Have a great holiday week, everyone. We all have lots to be grateful for!


Kathleen Doyle-White

Pathfinders Coaching

(503) 296-9249

© Copyright 2010 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search, Inc., all rights reserved.